The Blooming of the Lily
Surely thine hour has come, thy great wind blows,
Far-off, most secret, and inviolate Rose? -W.B. Yeats, “The Secret Rose”
Michelangelo’s David is the presiding genius of Florence… So young: sixteen, they say…. Adolescent. Waiting. The tense look. No escape. The Lily. -D.H. Lawrence, “David”
J.K. Rowling’s official site recently spawned yet another little puzzle. Fans were instructed to use six drops of a red liquid that the show host Tilden Toots called a “re-juicer” and three drops of a green liquid referred to as a “re-germinator,” in order to “revive” a flower that looks like a calla lily.
Red, green, the lily — in the Potterverse, these ordinary English words are drowned in symbolism. I will begin by stating the obvious: red is the color of Gryffindor and fire; green is associated with Slytherin and water. The lily — a traditional symbol of purity — gives Harry’s mother her name. A myriad of additional references to flowers are found throughout the books. Many of them are members of the Lily family or are otherwise associated with a lily — for example, Florence, a girl that is mentioned in The Goblet of Fire, and Firenze the centaur, allude to the city of Florence, whose symbol is the fleur-de-lis — the lily. Since Florence and the Lily are recurrent motives in “David,” an essay by D. H. Lawrence about the “blooming” of the individual and of civilization, I found that essay very inspirational and relevant to my topic (hence the frequent referral to it).
How did the red and green potions help the flower germinate and grow? Conditions for germination vary among different plant species, but in general, both water and adequate temperature are indispensable to break a seed’s dormancy. Rain and sunlight remain important throughout the life of a flower: if you keep your plant in the dark, or if you don’t water it, it will soon wither and die. And if you care for it, you shouldn’t choke it with industrial amounts of water while talking to your friend on the phone, or leave it in the hot, scorching sun of the terrace in the summer, when the instructions read “Medium Light.” Flowers, like people, are delicate beings in need of a fine balance between their elements: “take away a [lily’s] watery preponderance, surcharge an excess of water, and it is finished,” says D. H. Lawrence in “David.”
If Harry is the calla lily who struggles to put forth her leaves and blossoms, he will need not only light and heat, and passion, but also water, and cool, and meekness. Pride and understanding, frankness and subtlety. Six drops of the flaming red, three drops of the soothing green: as Harry is a true Gryffindor, the flames predominate — like David’s “unquenchable fire” — yet without the water, they would burn the flower down. It is interesting that the red tincture is the re-juicer, and the green tincture is the re-germinator. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? The sun heats the pot; the watering-can moistens it. Red is hot, and green is cool. So what is Rowling doing here? The meaning becomes clearer if we consider the well-known Chinese symbol of Yin and Yang, “with the black pole in the white vortex and the white pole in the black vortex, as an indication that the passive is present in the active, and the active in the passive, just as man contains the nature of woman, and woman the nature of man” (from Burckhardt’s Alchemy). Water and fire are opposing elements, but they live through and in each other. It is their defining quality, their very essence.
The same symbolism crops up in another unexpected place — the covers of Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The latter is burning bright red, embellished with fire motives and with Harry Potter’s name written in big, bold letters. Yet the name of the author is cold, wet, and slippery: Newt Scamander. “Scamander” means “to wander,” which not only evokes the favorite pastime of the magizoologist but is also an important symbol (I’ll get back to it a little later). However, the word sounds a lot like “salamander,” too, and that of course ties in with “newt” and with the subject of the book. Salamanders and newts have damp bodies and need moisture for survival — their presence on the flaming cover is the visual manifestation of the “moisture-in-the-fire” principle. In fact, the old belief that salamanders could survive in the fire probably arose after one of those poor creatures found itself in the midst of the flames and lived, by virtue of its moist skin which protected it. That could be telling us something about Harry, Gryffindors and Slytherins, and their characters. Again, D. H. Lawrence expresses it far more beautifully than I ever could:
Obviously northerners must love Florence. Here is their last point, their most southerly. The extreme south of the Lily’s flowering. It is said the fruits are best at their extremity of climate. The southern apple is sweetest at his most northerly limit. The Lily, the Water-born, most dazzling near the sun. Florence, the flower-town. David!
The same (and opposite) is true of the cover art of Quidditch Through the Ages. The color is green, different tinges of green, like the surface of a river reflecting the sun. Green and fluid. The author’s name — Kennilworthy Whisp — presents a slightly muddier deciphering challenge than Mr. Scamander’s. As is always the case, the name works perfectly well on a literal level and is easily related to Quidditch. A “wisp” can refer to a small bundle of hay or straw; the similar-sounding whisk can be used for brushing or dusting — obviously allusions to the flying broomstick. In addition, “to whisk” means “to move with a light sweeping motion; to rush or dart nimbly,” which is what you do on a Nimbus 2000, of course. However, a “whisk” is also a “water-sprinkler,” or we could talk about “a whisp of rain.” That ties in with the water quality of the cover art. So does the name Kennilworthy, in that the “kennel” of a street is the gutter, and the word “kennel” is etymologically related to “canal” and “channel.”
Yet — and attesting to Ms. Rowling’s maniacal digging into language — there is more to Kennilworthy Whisp. “Kennel” is an obsolete form of “cannel” — “a bituminous coal which burns with a very bright flame” and was famously found in the town of Wigan, in Lancashire. No wonder that Mr. Whisp’s favorite Quidditch team is The Wigtown Wanderers, which sounds suspiciously like The Wigan Warriors, the “most successful rugby league club in English history” (according to Wikipedia, if you want another W-word). Coal burning in the green humidity — as Lawrence puts it, “like a hot coal quenched.”
(“Kennilworthy” is also related to Kenilworth Castle, which was owned by John of Gaunt and later by Robert Dudley, Duke of Leicester — played by Joseph Fiennes in the movie Elizabeth. Queen Elizabeth I paid several visits there. On her most spectacular one, the Queen was entertained by a dazzling show full of mythological themes and characters. The castle was pretty much destroyed by Cromwell’s troops but was celebrated in Walter Scott’s novel Kenilworth. Obviously, this is a terrific line of inquiry, but I’m not sure it is relevant to the topic of fire-water symbolism.)
The name Whisp also carries an inherent duality. Will-o’-the-w(h)isp — or Ignis fatuus, the wandering or foolish fire — is “a phosphorescent light seen hovering or flitting over marshy ground, and supposed to be due to the spontaneous combustion of an inflammable gas…derived from decaying organic matter.” Fire in the moisture, indeed! And who is this “wandering fire” but Harry himself — the Hero on his journey, the Tarot Fool, and the Seeker.
In addition, when used figuratively, “will-o’-the-wisp” refers to something misleading and elusive. The image of the deceptive fire in the bog reminds me of the cervus/servus fugitivus in alchemy — the fleeing servant or deer. He is a symbol of Mercurius — the transforming substance — where fire and water, masculine and feminine combine forces to push the individual self to completion.
In the books, one instance where I found the fire/water symbolism particularly significant is the Quidditch World Cup in Goblet of Fire. The Irish wear green, and the Bulgarians wear red. The difference between the two teams is very pronounced. None of the Irish players are outstanding in their own right, but they are perfectly coordinated and win as a team. The Bulgarians have a poor overall cohesion, and their play is much more individualistic (as is the case with the Bulgarian soccer team, I might add ;-). Their one moment of glory comes when Krum — an individual — catches the golden snitch. We could argue that both teams are victorious, but in two radically different ways. Their national emblems illustrate the same principle — the shamrock, three in one, a unity — and the lion, the independent, brave “I.” The mascots, on the other hand, symbolize the negative aspects or hidden dangers that come from adhering to either the “green” or the “red” principle. Leprechaun gold is deceitful and fast to evaporate, like water on a hot day. The dance of the veela can drive the listener to act impulsively and recklessly, as though he has lost his mind. These are indeed the “female” and “male” natures at work — females often form support networks but are also famous for more subtle ways of deceit; in contrast, males tend to form hierarchical relationships and are typically more risk-prone than women.
However, here, again, Rowling adds a twist, for the Irish leprechauns are male, while the Bulgarian veela are female. Just like fire and water in alchemy, a man lives in every woman, and a woman lives in every man. I also find it interesting that Krum is described as quite Snape-like in appearance, even though Snape is a “green” Slytherin (“black eyes,” “thin,” “dark,” “sallow-skinned,” “large curved nose,” “like an overgrown bird of prey”). [GOF, Ch. 8] One thing to note, however, is that the color gold, symbol of the philosopher’s stone, is everywhere and in everything — the golden walls of the stadium, the veela’s hair, the color of the Irish comets… The referee is dressed entirely in gold — a metaphor for the Stone. What stands between and beyond green and red as distinct colors is the ideal of the perfect Self….
Lily Potter, I believe, is the embodiment of this dual principle: the girl with red hair and green eyes who is compassionate, yet brave and strong. Her conscious choice to die for Harry is the culmination of the lily’s growth.
Besides the obvious flower, the unicorn has been suggested as another fitting symbol for Lily. Interestingly, Jung describes its horn as a dual object: “The horn as an emblem of vigour and strength has a masculine character, but at the same time it is a cup, which, as a receptacle, is feminine.” He draws a comparison between it and the cup that appears in a Bible passage: “Then I opened my mouth, and lo! there was reached unto me a full cup, which was full as it were with water, but the colour of it was like fire. And I took it and drank; and when I had drunk, my heart poured forth understanding, wisdom grew in my breast, and my spirit retained its memory.” Lily, the cup and the horn, the life-giver. Harry survives the Avada Kedavra because of her. If she is a human being complete and beautiful in her duality, is it Harry’s destiny to blossom into another lily now?
In order to do that, Harry needs to complete the search for his “watery” element — in other words, for the feminine part of his soul. And perhaps the primary way to achieve that is to get better acquainted with the women who have shaped his life. It has been discussed how the first half of the series is predominantly “male,” whereas the second half is much more “female.” The Goblet of Fire is a big watershed: there we saw the first hints of an interest in the opposite sex (and note the inner opposition of the book’s title itself). From the next book on, Cho Chang, Lily Evans, Merope Gaunt, Eileen Prince, and Ginny Weasley bring forth their color to paint over Harry’s past and present. They help him discover an unknown “monster” in himself; they help him understand his enemy, Voldemort, and — hopefully — his ally, Snape (for I absolutely believe that Snape is his ally). Once again, Lawrence says it so eloquently (watch out: this quote could be a potential gold mine for thoughts on the meaning of Harry’s scar):
Semele, scarred with lightning, gave birth prematurely to her child. The Cinque-Cento. Too fierce a mating, too fiery and potent a sire. The child was sewn again into the thigh of Zeus, re-entered into the loins of the lightning. So the brief fire-brand. It was fire overwhelming, over-weening, briefly married to the dew, that begot this child. The South to the North. Married! The child, the fire-dew, Iacchus, David.Fire-dew, yet still too fiery. Plunge him further into the dew. Dithyrambus, the twice-born, born first of fire, then of dew…
Harry, without a doubt, is “still too fiery” at times — too reckless, too emotional, too assertive, too angry. However, he has already made great strides to achieve the balance between sun and dew. His newly blossomed relationship with Ginny is proof. Harry wouldn’t have appreciated Ginny if he had not found the “feminine” nature inside him: he has arguably grown more considerate and solidary over time (e.g. his dedication to the DA, which is the product of a communal effort, or his acceptance of Luna). Similarly, the shy and timid Ginny is not compatible with Harry, where she still clings to her mother. (And do you remember that Valentine?:-) Now, she seems to be discovering the stronger, “masculine” part of herself, which might not appeal to everybody but makes her a good match for Harry Potter. It is interesting to compare this relationship with the relationship that has developed between Ron and Hermione.
In the next book, Harry needs to come to terms with the most important “water-people” (Slytherins) — Snape and Voldemort. Some readers have argued that Snape has already achieved a balance of the “four elements,” and that the role of the alchemical Mercurius fits him very well. Snape has also been likened, for various reasons, to the dual unicorn, as well as to the Augurey in Fantastic Beasts. The Augurey is an Irish phoenix (fire), but it is also a harbinger of rain, and its nest has the shape of a tear. Snape is a Slytherin, shape-shifting like ice, water, and steam, cunning enough to work as a spy. Running deep in those silent, dark waters is a great compassion for others, I believe. At the same time, Snape is immensely brave but also prone to anger, which would be characteristics of the fiery Gryffindor. Harry’s truest, most mature self is a “southern flower at its most northerly,” while Snape’s is a “northern flower at its most southerly.” In Book 7, as Harry steps into maturity and Snape is allowed to show his true colors, the two of them will — hopefully — meet in the center (somewhere in Central England, perhaps?:-)
Severus plays a pivotal role in Harry’s coming-of-age. I think it is not by coincidence that the French town of Sevres is so famous for its porcelain (Pottery). In fact, the person who revived porcelain manufacturing in the beginning of the 19th century, Alexandre Brongniart, head of the Sevres Porcelain Factory, was a true “Renaissance man” — a fine chemist, minerologist, botanist, and zoologist — quite like the versatile Professor Snape. As the porcelain or “pottery” is made in Sevres, as the philosophical stone is made in/through Mercurius, so is Harry “made” through Severus!
Finally, the alchemical “marriage” between fire and water, or between any two opposing principles, must also encompass the most peculiar union of good and evil. For the shadow to be “vanquished” and its destructive power brought under control, the shadow has to be realized as part of the light. The roots are as necessary to a plant as the blossoms are. In the novel Quetzalcoatl by Lawrence, the prophet Ramon, newly accessed to divinity, says, “The cup of my flowering is unfolded. My stem is in the air, my roots are all in the dark.” Harry knows that the roots are “in the dark” — perhaps what he has yet to understand fully is that these roots are “his” roots, whatever implications that might have plotwise. By exploring the similarities and differences between Voldemort and himself, Harry has already made a lot of progress in the right direction. By speaking Voldemort’s name out loud and facing him in battles, he has made the black soil in the pot almost transparent. The roots lie there, more exposed and perhaps less threatening than ever before. Now Harry just needs to complete the journey.
“Each of us has the plague within him,” says Tarrou in Camus’ The Plague — and if we want to stay healthy and not infect our fellow beings, we need “a vigilance that must never falter.” Constant vigilance exercised by the flower, to keep its roots from spreading so much that they drain the life from its fellow plants.
“In the self, good and evil are indeed closer than identical twins!” exclaims Jung in hisPsychology and Alchemy, and gives a real-world example in his essay “The Fight with the Shadow”:
The Germans wanted order, but they made the fatal mistake of choosing the principal victim of disorder and unchecked greed for their leader. (…) In Hitler, every German should have seen his own shadow, his own worst danger. It is everybody’s allotted fate to become conscious of and learn to deal with this shadow.
Could that be the symbolic meaning of Harry’s intimate connection with Voldemort? Of his dreams of the struggle with the turban in Philosopher’s Stone, of the ladders and snakes in The Half-Blood Prince?
While striving to maintain a balance between good and evil and every other pair of opposites (including Ron and Hermione), our Potter is gradually crafting himself out of the clay. He is nurturing the flower of his own being. Gerard Dorn, cited by Jung, urges: “Transform yourselves from dead stones into living philosophical stones!” — this, in a few words, is the essence of Harry’s journey. He is both the Alchemist and the Stone, both the Potter and the Flower.
I’ll conclude with another quote by D. H. Lawrence, this time from his essay “The Reality of Peace”:
I am not born fulfilled. The end is not before the beginning. I am born uncreated. I am a mixed handful of life as I issue from the womb. Thenceforth I extricate myself into singleness, the slow-developed singleness of manhood. And then I set out to meet the other, the unknown of womanhood. (…) I am and I am not at once; suddenly I lapse out of the duality into a sheer beauty of fulfilment. I am a rose of lovely peace.