How “Harry Potter” Saved My Life
On the day that changed my life forever, two very important things happened: I received a long-awaited phone call for a job interview, and the toilet in the apartment upstairs started spewing sewage water into my bathtub.
I received the phone call while stumbling through the bedroom with a stack of towels and pots. At that time in my life, I was not the kind of person to take care of the emergency first and call them back later. Anxious, paranoid, and high out of my mind, I cradled the phone between my ear and my shoulder and scheduled an interview over the dulcet tones of sewage water splashing on tile and my very terrified dog’s barking.
Earlier that day, my best friend Harvey left my apartment after a long-needed visit. We’d hardly seen each other in the six months since I graduated college, moved across the state, and got married. Harvey and I have always had a lot in common, and during this visit, we realized that we had each spent a great deal of time independently researching alchemy and the four elements. He was returning to a house undergoing plumbing repairs, and after the leak subsided, I texted him a joke about his contagious, watery problems.
Given how much we have in common, this coincidence was unsurprising, but our new studies of alchemy gave things a mysterious timbre. The transfer of plumbing issues from him to me seemed somehow significant, giving our friendship a feeling of destiny that had been somewhat lacking since its early days when we were discovering our shared devotion to the Harry Potter books.
When I was a kid, my fervor for the Potter books was unmatched by anyone I knew. After I first read the books, I spent years feeling like Harry before he met Ron on the train, alone in a world where I finally belonged. During my early years, Harry was my best friend. We had a lot of shared experience when it came to childhood trauma. My caregivers may not have been the Dursleys, but I knew how it felt to suffer abuse without refuge, to stand beneath a never-ending hurricane, drowning in each deluge, being reborn only to die again and again and again.
My single sanctuary was in the words of the Potter books, introduced to me by my grandfather, but the walls of this sanctuary were unstable. My spiritual mentors in the Baptist church warned me that the books were dangerous. But Harry would understand what I’m going through, and they don’t! I would think to myself, reading through the first four novels for the third, fourth, fifth time. Will I go to hell if I keep reading?
In the early years of my adolescence, the complications multiplied. My grandfather, who brought the saving grace of the Potter books into my life, became my personal Peter Pettigrew by making a series of incredibly selfish choices that split my family into pieces. This family schism brought more pain than I had ever known.
In the aftermath of this division, I identified with Harry more than ever, but the books now felt like a disease. Everything my grandfather brought into my life felt like a poison I needed to bleed out. I continued to read the books as they were released, but I had no one to talk to about them or the uncomfortable spot they occupied in my psyche. My home life deteriorated, I started abusing drugs and alcohol, and I sought relationships outside my family with people who would give me the only thing I had ever known: more trauma.
My life started to turn around by the time I became friends with Harvey, and befriending another diehard Potter fan was an intense catalyst for change. At the onset of our senior year of high school, we knew each other from theater class but had never spent a lot of one-on-one time together. That changed when we discovered that neither of us knew a single other person in our lunch period. Out of the hundreds of people we knew, D-lunch had just the two of us. It seemed fated.
Getting to know Harvey was like looking into a mirror and truly seeing myself for the first time. We shared good habits and bad, filled in the gaps of the other’s Potter knowledge, and brought out previously unexplored aspects of our personalities. In Harvey, I found my Ron. Our shared love of Potter, dark senses of humor, and strangely synchronous life paths cemented our friendship figuratively. We decided to cement it literally. Having been torn apart by trauma time and time again, we reclaimed the term Horcrux and made the choice to split our souls, sealing them to keepsakes we planted around town and cementing our spirits together in a glass jar of honey, pomegranate seeds, and magic. Late one night, we buried the jar on a construction site; the next morning, it rested beneath a blanket of concrete.
Sealing our souls together by bringing a metaphor to life sent Harvey and me on many adventures, but it was years before we began to consider what we did in alchemical terms. I discovered alchemy through my research for one of my earliest writings on Potter, not too long before Harvey’s fateful visit. Fascinated with Rowling’s use of alchemical imagery and processes, I explored the subject to enrich my understanding of the text. The more I read, the more I was able to identify its principles at work in my own life, creating an endless cycle of joy and sorrow, wealth and poverty, and spiritual death and rebirth.
Despite my attraction to its core concepts, I would not consider myself a true alchemist. Years of study await me before I feel I will have truly earned that title, but I do consider that jar the container of my alchemical beginnings. Today, I see myself as a very young student of alchemy, but my studies didn’t truly begin until the day of the job interview I scheduled during that fateful, phlegmatic downpour.
Anyone with a little more skepticism and a little less brain fog would have been able to tell that that job interview was a total scam. The company I interviewed with was running what was essentially a pyramid scheme, draining money from naïve, jobless college graduates with thousands of dollars’ worth of “initiation fees,” an abysmal commission split, and promises that the position could be the job of your dreams – if you worked hard enough.
I should have been an easy sell. After almost a year of post-graduation unemployment, I was desperate for a job. The sales manager was patient when I stared blankly and asked her to repeat the question. Her description of the position’s benefits matched almost word-for-word the description of my dream job required in the pre-interview survey. About halfway through the interview, her tone changed dramatically. “If this isn’t the position for you,” she said, “you should just leave now and stop wasting my time.” She was not somebody who liked having her time wasted, and if I stayed this long and decided not to stick around, she had clearly already wasted her afternoon.
Someone with a little more self-worth might have walked out right then and there, but I shook my head silently and told her to go on. I was asked to recite a few sentences on the back of an informational pamphlet. I don’t remember every word, but I do remember that the last sentence read, “I would be stupid not to take this job.”
Satisfied, she moved on to the next part of the interview, explaining the responsibilities I would have in the position. As she turned to the next page of the pamphlet, she tried to read the upside-down text aloud and stumbled over her words. Panic flashed across her face, and time slowed down. I rocketed back to reality. Fear drained her of all color, and for a moment, I saw her face, pale and orblike, as the full moon, revolving around me and shaping the swell of my emotional tides.
She was controlling me like the abusive figures of my past. Even with this knowledge, I was petrified where I sat, scrambling to come up with an excuse to leave that wouldn’t upset her. I started to enter my personal information into a computer; I got as far as the first six digits of my social security number before I stopped typing. I thanked her, I walked out of the office, and we never spoke again.
Tears flowed freely on the drive home. For the first time in my life, I had leaped out of an abuser’s grasp before she could sink her claws in and do me any lasting harm, and I found the means of my escape in the analogical powers of alchemy. Happy as I was, my relief was short-lived. The realization that my narcotic coping mechanism had put me in danger petrified me. Nobody else was responsible for getting me into this situation. It was all me.
The next morning, I emptied my wine bottles. I threw away my pipe. Recovery road has been long, grueling, and not without its setbacks. I had more than my fair share of relapses and emotional outbursts. They mean it when they say it gets worse before it gets better. Thanks to the support of friends, my lovely husband, and the Potter books, I had the courage to dive into studies the mentors of my past warned me about. Dozens of books on magic and alchemy helped me bring my hidden problems to the surface, and I have undergone a total transformation of mind, body, and spirit. Almost two years later, I am a completely new version of myself.
The seeds of my personal transformation came from the garden of the Potter books. In this column, I intend to examine those spiritual seeds in their entirety. My goal is not to convince anyone to follow any particular spiritual path, but to use the Potter books as a tool for spiritual growth. Rowling explores the metaphysical in a plethora of ways throughout the Potter series, and I believe there are countless pearls of wisdom lingering beneath the surface of the magical world’s spiritual mechanics. Through examining life, love, death, and the soul throughout the Potter series, I aim to explore questions such as:
- What is the spirit?
- What happens when we die?
- Can a person be born evil?
- How can a person keep their spirit healthy and nourished?
- What exactly is love?
- What does it mean to split one’s soul?
These are all big questions, and I don’t anticipate having any solid answers. The exploration of the spiritual realm is a never-ending dialogue, and I hope that you’ll join the conversation and peer beyond the veil with me.