The North Tower #3: Prophecies: A General Study (1)

by Maline

Hi, everybody. Before we get down to business, I’d like to say a few things about feedback. I love that you send me e-mails, asking questions and giving me your views on things. However, there are some general things that I would like to point out:

1) When you ask me a specific question, I’ve tried to answer them so far. The problem is that 80% of the time, I get them back with a message saying “user quota full.” When this happens, I usually delete them, as I don’t have the time (or space in my inbox) to try again later until it goes through. Also, many questions are extremely intelligent and interesting, and I’m planning on analyzing them in future articles. So, if you don’t get an answer, try to be patient; there’s a good chance I’ll write about your idea or question later on. Remember, we probably have at least two years to kill before number 6 comes out. Plenty of time.

2) Please do not send me stuff like “I don’t care about your arguments, I know that Neville’s the One!” or “But what if Voldemort really did choose the wrong boy?” or “Maybe Harry and Neville are both the One!” or “But Neville was also born at the end of July!” etc., etc. I’ve already analyzed this and given you my view on the matter. I don’t want to repeat my arguments X times over to different people. Don’t misunderstand me; you are of course completely entitled to your own opinion. That’s what literature’s all about, having your own view on things. I’m not God or JKR, which means that I don’t know for certain the secrets of HP. I’m a person who analyzes literature. What I give you is my interpretation, not necessarily the Ultimate Truth (although I hope it is :-))

3) Also, I would like to advise you to think and read before creating your own theories. We are dealing with literature here; meaning and text are connected. To say, “I think that Lily is still alive and that she’s actually Crookshanks” when the text clearly states that she’s dead over and over again and the only common trait for the two of them is red hair/fur, is not a very convincing argument. And that’s what you should always think about: how convincing your arguments are and what support there is for them in the text. Remember, even gut-feelings start (subconsciously, but still) with the text.

4) One last argument in the Harry/Neville debate. I got this from Jeanine:

“Don’t forget that if a person picks up a prophecy that is not about him or her, he or she will go crazy. Harry picked up that prophecy and did not go crazy. Therefore, the prophecy is about him, not Neville.”

Clever girl, I had not thought of that.

So please, no questions that I’ve already answered and no theories whose only support is, “I know ’cause I’m smart and you’re stupid!” Other than that, feel free – I love hearing from you.

Okay, having said that, I’ll get going with today’s mystery. I’ve decided to round off my articles on the prophecy with a study on prophecies in general, as many of you have asked questions about them. Let’s start with the basics and work ourselves up.

1) What is a prophecy?

A prophecy, according to Longman’s dictionary is “a statement that something will happen in the future, especially one made by someone with religious or magical powers.” This definition goes well with the HP books as well as general mythology. What’s important here is to first make a distinction between a prophecy and general indications (GIs) of the future. A prophecy is a precise statement, talks about a specific event at a specific time (not “ten o’clock on Sunday the 24th of June”-specific, but specific in the sense that the event occurs in a limited space of time, specific in opposition to continuous.). General indications give an idea of what sort of things might happen and if they are to happen sooner or later. They give the general mood of the world so to speak.

In the HP series, both kinds of future-telling are practiced by different beings. Prophecies are made by wizards and GIs are the art of the Centaurs. It seems to be pretty divided up between the two species. Firenze said on p. 532 (I use the UK edition by the way) of OotP that humans are hardly ever good at seeing “this” (“this” being the future through GIs the way the Centaurs do). In the same way, there are no prophecies by Centaurs in the series (yet, who knows what’ll happen later on?). Let’s take the different branches separately, shall we?

The Wisdom of the Centaurs

“Lie back on the floor… and observe the heavens. Here is written, for those who can see, the fortune of our races…. I know that you have learned the names of the planets… and that you have mapped the stars’ progress through the heavens. Centaurs have unravelled the mysteries of these movements over centuries. Our findings teach us that the future may be glimpsed in the sky above us…. Trivial hurts, tiny human accidents…. These are of no more significance than the scurryings of ants to the wide universe, and are unaffected by planetary movements…. I, however, am here to explain the wisdom of centaurs, which is impersonal and impartial. We watch the skies for the great tides of evil or change that are sometimes marked there. It may take ten years to be sure of what we are seeing.”
–Firenze in OotP, p. 531

Ok, here comes the fun part: to dissect the text and find the important words. First, look at sentence five: the future may be glimpsed in the sky; i.e., it’s hard to see and not necessarily there at all. Secondly, the second-to-last sentence: the great tides ofevil or change (emphasis added) that are sometimes marked there. Not only can evil be marked in the skies, but any kind of mood switch for the universe. The word “tide” indicates that there’s a balance in the universe of different forces (e.g., good and evil) and that they go back and forth like the sea. Sometimes evil tips the scale, but good will tip it back later on. If you follow that logic, it implies that neither good nor evil can ever completely conquer the other. The universe is built on their co-existence.

Let’s think of it like this: imagine that you hang a pendent from your finger. You can make it swing back and forth but never only one way. If the pendent symbolizes the universe and the balance between good and evil, it means that for one to conquer and annihilate the other (e.g., evil wins and extinguishes good), the pendent must be swung to stand still straight up from your finger (i.e., hanging towards the ceiling). And even if you would manage this (although impossible with gravity), the position of maximal evil would also be the position of maximal good.

At position 1, good and evil are at an equilibrium, we have equal amounts of both. As we follow the yellow arrows, we get more good and less evil. At position 2 we are at big advantage for good. But, (and here’s where it gets tricky) when we approach position 4, maximal good, we find that this same point is also maximal evil and that the quarter between positions 2 and 4 actually takes us closer to the evil side than further away from it. The best position for good would thus be position 2, where the ratio between the two is the most favorable but where both forces still exist.

  • Conclusion of all this metaphysical mess: in a world like the one JKR describes through Firenze, neither good nor evil can ultimately conquer the other, they will always exist side by side.

Interesting, isn’t it? Point number two (if we go back to the quote) concerns what you can actually see in the skies.

“Trivial hurts, tiny human accidents…. These are of no more significance than the scurryings of ants to the wide universe, and are unaffected by planetary movements.”

This implies that you can’t see individual moments in the way you can with a prophecy (we’ll get to those too, I promise). Individual human beings and their actions are of little importance in general. The signs are all very vague, which makes it easy to misinterpret them because of what you wish them to be. For example, in PS/SS Bane remarked that “Mars shines strongly tonight” (or something like that, my copy is in Sweden right now and I’m in France, so I can’t really check), something Firenze said in OotP that Mars had been doing for about ten years, indicating that battle would soon break out again. When Firenze saved Harry from Voldemort/Quirell in the Forbidden Forest in PS/SS, Bane accused him of interfering with the heavens. I think that Bane here puts two and two together a bit too fast. He saw the sign of imminent battle in the sky, saw Voldemort in the forest drinking the unicorn’s blood and saw the grave danger that Harry was in. In Bane’s mind, this equals the death of Harry, the return of Voldy and the start of the second war then and there. It fits so nicely. If Firenze hadn’t interfered, it would probably have happened, so no wonder Bane was annoyed – Firenze wrecked his theory, his “correct” interpretation of the heavenly signs!

The thing is that the heavens only spoke of a coming war (and “soon” is a very vague concept as anybody waiting for that someone to “call you soon” knows), not of a specific event (i.e., Voldy killing Harry that day in the Forbidden Forest). So, Firenze didn’t interfere with the heavens at all. He just prevented that particular way of the war breaking out. Voldemort still rose, the war is about to start, everything is going according to plan. This was inevitable. Harry delayed Voldemort’s return in PS/SS but he still rose in GoF. We all knew he’d come back eventually, even after only the first book. Dumbledore knew, Hagrid knew, the Death Eaters in Azkaban knew, and Harry knew. All knew that evil had not been defeated that night at Godric’s Hollow. It was merely waiting, biding its time, lying patiently inactive until that which had to happen happened, and the pendent swung back to the dark side, obeying the forces of the universe.


As Firenze says, the wisdom of Centaurs is impersonal and impartial. You can see the future in the heavens but not interfere with it. You cannot change what is written in the skies, only the ways in which it comes about. It only shows the grand scheme of things, not individual events or specific people’s actions. It is the main outline of JKR’s entire series, unbothered by smaller events and key moments. It is the country background of a detailed painting, the mystic currents under the sea.

I’ll continue with the prophecies next week. It’ll give you all time to read and really think about this before we move on.

Take care, have a nice week.