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Harry's journey towards gold: Alchemical symbols in the Harry Potter series

by Audrey Spindler


Audrey Spindler is a French 32 year old teacher who lives in a charming medieval town in South Burgundy. After completing a history degree, she passed a research MA, specialising in 17th and 18th century history, and a DEA in "Western Culture and Civilisation - From Renaissance to the Eighteenth Century", which focussed particularly on religious and social history. A teacher by day, Audrey can be found each night in the Lexicon forum, where she keeps her HP obsession going amongst fellow Potterheads. Her passion for Harry Potter and history finally met when she discovered that alchemy was a key element of the books' symbolism. The Alchemy thread she started with some friends has has been an amazing bubbling cauldron for months now, and it is the theories born out of this work which she is presenting in this essay.


Alchemy has an important role in the Harry Potter series that JK Rowling begins with the Philosopher's Stone story and the historic character of Nicolas Flamel, a medieval French alchemist, who was meant to have discovered the Philosopher's stone with the help of his wife Perenelle. Other real alchemists are mentioned in the books as Paracelsus and Cornelius Agrippa who figure on Chocolate frog cards (PS 77 -78). On those cards, Dumbledore is also mentioned as an alchemist. Moreover, Albus (white in Latin) means "the Initiate" in alchemy (Fulcanelli 109), that is to say the alchemist, "the one who knows," which fits perfectly with Dumbledore. But there is more than that and the aim of this paper is to suggest that JK Rowling is using the symbols of alchemy as a framework for the entire series.

There is not only one definition of alchemy but several. First, alchemists were searching for the Philosopher’s Stone, a transformational object used to transform base metals into silver and gold and also to provide universal medical cure for illnesses, “the Elixir of Life,” made thanks to the stone. But alchemy didn’t consist of laboratory work alone. It was also a personal quest as the Alchemists’ main aim was the ennoblement of the soul, symbolised by the ennoblement of the matter.

So, the Philosopher’s stone is not only an object but also the symbol of the journey the alchemist made to obtain it. This journey was the true reward because it gave him knowledge (he was supposed to have understood the mysteries of Nature), hence wisdom, and made him a better human being. This is what the alchemists called “the philosophical gold”: their own spiritual transformation was the true gold sought, the real Philosopher’s Stone. The symbol of this alchemical journey can be very rich when applied to Harry’s, and to other characters’, transformation in the books.

The language of alchemy

Alchemists developed a secret symbolic language because they wanted to share their knowledge only with people they thought deserving of the information: “the fraternity of the true philosophers”. They drew pictures in an elaborate language of symbols, that they also scattered in their texts, which correctly read by another alchemist, would give him information and procedures to follow. These images and metaphors are numerous in the HP series, as we’ll see. JK Rowling also uses some “tricks” alchemists used in their texts: they used anagrams (as with Tom Marvolo Riddle / I am Lord Voldemort), backwards writing (think of the Mirror of Erised) and what they called “the phonetic cabbala”, that is to say puns: people had to read the sentence aloud to understand its hidden meaning (how not to think of Knockturn Alley/nocturnally, Diagon Alley/diagonally, Knight bus/night bus or Grimmauld place as “grim old place”?).

The three stages of the Great Work and Harry’s journey

There are three great stages in the creation of the Philosopher’s stone. This work was called the Great Work, or The Work of the Phoenix, and consisted of the transformation of the “material prima”, the “First Material”, into the Philosopher’s stone after going through those stages. It begins with the Black process, followed by the White process (at the end of which the stone transforms metals into silver) and the Red process during which the Stone becomes red and, at the end, transforms metals into gold. The symbolism of these stages can be applied to the books, each one being a journey in itself and, at the same time, part of the greater journey that represents the whole series.

In the HP series, some alchemical symbols keep recurring, bound to those stages:
- Nigredo is the Black process, from the colour of the Materia Prima at the beginning of the work. This unattractive black matter is also a fertile one. It is Saturn’s reign, the planet of melancholy, the “black humour”. It represents the descent into Hell the soul of the alchemist has to make to be born again – to ascend – because from darkness, light will come eventually.

Symbolically, Harry has to get through his own nigredo process. The trials he endures, the knowledge he learns about his past, and the sorrow he experiences make him going deeper and deeper in this process. But these trials also strengthen him and will allow him to become the wizard he was meant to be. In the books, some recurring symbols from alchemy suggest this black process: the black colour, blackness, night, death, skulls, skeletons, black dragons, underground tunnels and passages, the Saturn planet, lead (Saturn’s metal), mirrors that represent the beginning of the Work, the Veil, thestrals, decapitations (symbolical, as when disembodied heads appear in fireplaces during Floo network communication or when Harry predicts “his own death by decapitation” (GoF 197) or real, think of Nearly Headless Nick)…

Sirius Black and Severus Snape can also be connected to Harry’s black process. Both are bound to Harry’s past and, each in its own way, bring Harry knowledge of that time. The sorrow he experiences at the loss of Sirius is a key part of this process.

In that perspective, the Dementors can be seen as the personification of the “black humour”. Their mere aspect and each of their appearances suggests a “dive” into darkness. Harry’s first encounter with a Dementor presents a creature whose robe is made of “black material” and whose hand is “glistening, greyish, slimy-looking and scabbed, like something dead that had decayed in water” (PoA 66) which reminds me of putrefaction, a stage of the nigredo process. When Harry feels his power, the text says:

“He was drowning in cold. There was a rushing in his ears as though of water. He was being dragged downwards, the roaring growing louder… And then, from far away, he heard screaming, terrible, terrified, pleading screams.” (PoA 66)

Cold is bound to the melancholic humour; and “a descent of the soul in hell” (Encyclopédie des symboles 444) describes perfectly the Dementors’ terrible power.

- Albedo, the white process, follows Nigredo. The Materia Prima is on its way towards the Philosopher’s stone. If the work was stopped there, it would make a Stone that would turn metals into silver (bound to the moon in alchemy). Here again, some alchemical symbols of this process can be found in each book, when Harry’s goal is in sight: the white and silver colour, silver, and the moon. The swan and the lily are also albedo’s symbols. So Lily Potter, Albus – the white – Dumbledore, Luna (moon in Latin), “Moony”/Lupin and Cho’s patronus can also be connected to that stage.

As with the nigredo process, albedo can be seen in each book and throughout the whole series. At the end of Order of the Phoenix, Harry seems to have reached the deepest point of his black process. Sirius Black has gone through the black veil1, Harry sits alone, on the bank of the dark Lake2, “ trying not to think about his godfather or to remember that is was directly across from here, on the opposite bank, that Sirius had once collapsed trying to fend off a hundred Dementors..." (OotP 754). The Lake is a metaphorical reference to Harry’s depressive feelings after Sirius’s death but, at the same time, he is now on the “opposite bank” of the Lake. Symbolically, he has achieved the crossing of the Black process.

So, before the HBP came out, we supposed it would be the “white/silver book” in Harry’s journey, the one in which Dumbledore’s role should be crucial, before the final stage. And it was, culminating with Dumbledore’s death, the white flames and smoke and the white tomb, title of the last chapter by the way. Besides, Harry has matured since Order of the Phoenix. He is a new man from now on, beginning to be the leader he is meant to be. Thanks to Albus, and especially to the knowledge learnt in the Half-Blood Prince, he will reach the final stage of his 7 books journey. Sentences like this one, at the end of the HBP, fit perfectly the whole alchemical journey symbolism:

“he simply knew that the task of discovering the truth about the real Horcrux had to be completed before he could move a little further along the dark and winding path stretching ahead of him, the path he and Dumbledore had set upon together, and which he now knew he would have to journey alone” (p.592)

There is more than enough material in the HBP, especially about the white process, to write an entire paper3 but there is a detail I would like to mention because I think it is very important: it is the title of a book Harry is reading at some point: “Quintessence: a Quest” (HBP 285). Quintessence is a very important alchemical symbol. Basically, it means that the alchemists believed that to the 4 elements (air, earth, water, fire) a fifth should be added. That fifth element was the spiritual nature of the essence of the universe. It was in each of the 4 elements and, at the same time, above them.

Before the Half-Blood Prince, we had connected the quintessence symbol to Dumbledore, saying that if we were seeing the 4 houses as the 4 elements, which JK Rowling confirmed recently in an interview4, then the headmaster was the quintessence of the 4 houses: at the same time in each of them and above them.

Now, at the end of the Half-Blood Prince, Harry and Dumbledore make a last trip together and, funnily enough, they go through the 4 elements together during that trip: water, when they swim; earth, in the cave; fire, that Dumbledore conjures to save them from the Inferi and air when they ride broomsticks afterwards. So, I think quintessence can apply to both Harry and Dumbledore from now on: Harry because he needs to unite everyone at Hogwarts in the final battle, so to be the one above the houses distinctions, and Dumbledore because of the white smoke shaped like a phoenix we see in the last chapter. Somehow, I’m certain his spirit will be able to help Harry again before the end. The “quest” mentioned here is then double for Harry: in the Half-Blood Prince, it is to help Dumbledore on his own path till his final quintessence and it is also a hint to Harry’s future mission in book 7.

- Rubedo, the red process, is the last stage of the Great Work. At its end, the Philosopher’s Stone is achieved and can transmute common metals into gold. Here again, at the end of the books, when Harry has achieved his “quest”, we find alchemical symbols connected to rubedo: the Phoenix, rubies, the red colour, gold, the sun… Fawkes, red and gold, is of course bound to that stage, as are Dumbledore’s patronus (a phoenix), the Gryffindor house (red and gold) and Rubeus Hagrid, rubeus meaning red in Latin. So, Harry’s three “mentors”, Sirius Black, Albus Dumbledore and Rubeus Hagrid are bound to the three alchemical stages.

In this way, at the end of PS, the first thing Harry sees when he wakes up after Voldemort’s defeat is: “Something gold was glinting just above him” (PS 214), just as, during the feast, “the green hangings became scarlet and the silver became gold.” (PS 222) Harry has achieved this book’s quest.

The phoenix, image of the stone, symbolises the destruction and the recomposition of the Materia Prima which is transforming to become the Philosopher's stone. He is the Cinnabar Bird, symbol of the perpetual rebirth of the matter and of the spiritual immortality the alchemist reaches when he has achieved the stone. It is a very important symbol and Fawkes is just as important in the series. Besides, he cries “pearly tears”. In alchemy, pearls, also named “Madeleine’s tears” (Gineste 252) “come” from the philosopher’s stone and can turn metals into gold or be used to make elixirs. Fawkes’s pearly tears’ elixir save Harry, bitten by the basilisk in CoS, just before he reaches gold by defeating Riddle and saving Ginny. We encounter this symbolism again at the end of GoF, when Fawkes heals Harry’s leg in Dumbledore’s office. At this point of the book (GoF 606), Harry has achieved his quest, his journey, not only by surviving the graveyard scene but also by finding the courage to tell what happened.

Fawkes5 is thus the symbol of the achievement of the quest for Harry in CoS and GoF but most certainly also across the whole series. Symbolically, Book 7 should be the “red/golden book”, in which Harry will achieve his journey. I have no doubt Fawkes, Dumbledore’s bird, will be there, at the very end.

So, through each “quest” Harry has to lead, he can be seen as “the seeker of gold” from a metaphorical point of view, gold understood as the alchemists’ philosophical gold, meaning knowledge, achievement, understanding of the world he lives in, and growing up to be a better human being. Quidditch is the perfect image of that quest: Harry, the seeker, must avoid black Bludgers, so to catch the silver and gold Snitch (while Chasers use a red Quaffle to score). The same symbolical colours again… Those colours, carefully repeated and sprinkled in the books, as the spider spins its web, create a wonderful symbolical background to JK Rowling’s text.

 An example: Harry’s journey in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

- Five of six books thus far open with Harry in a “dead” position6; he is either asleep or stretched out. But not CoS which, nevertheless, begins with a similar symbol: Harry having to pretend not to exist and hence sham death. [Three times Harry says, “I’ll be in my room, making no noise and pretending I’m not there” (CoS 10)]. Three days later, locked in his room: “He lay on his bed watching the sun sinking behind the bars on the windows and wondered miserably what was going to happen to him.” (CoS 22). The metaphor is always the same: Harry’s journey in the book begins; he enters the black process, the one he has to go through so to make progress, to grow up.

Nigredo symbols continue in the next chapters, as when Harry first travels by Floo powder (calcination is a stage of the nigredo process) and arrives in Knockturn Alley (“nocturnally”, the alley of blackness), “down there”, as says Hagrid (the Red) when he takes a covered with soot Harry back “into bright sunlight” (45).

In chapter 5, when Harry and Ron approach Hogwarts, we also find dark references and the image of the mirror (with the lake) and what is below, all very characteristic of the nigredo process.

Silhouetted on the dark horizon, high on a cliff over the lake, stood the many turrets and towers of Hogwarts castle. " [...] "Glancing out of his window, Harry saw the smooth, black, glassy surface of the water, a mile below." (58-59)

The same dark references are to be found during “The Deathday Party,” that celebrates Nearly Headless Nick’s beheading, and “The Duelling Club”: even the snake Draco conjures is long and black… So, discovering he is a parselmouth is part of that black process for Harry, as is Snape, dark, black-clad and mysterious, the one who always forces him to look at the past from another point of view and hence makes him progress, though reluctantly.

Besides, in “The Polyjuice Potion,” we see Fawkes for the first time – and not on any day but on a death/rebirth day, very symbolical of the nigredo process, as is Harry and Ron’s incursion in the Slytherin common room [they “hurried down the stone steps into the darkness” and “They walked deeper and deeper under the school” (164)] .

Later, when Hermione is petrified, she is also in a “dead position” – “Hermione lay utterly still, her eyes opened and glassy” (190).

- “Aragog” is a key chapter in which white references appear, after the boys come back to the castle: “Harry swung his legs up onto his bed and leaned back against his pillows, watching the moon glinting at him through the tower window” (208). While watching the moon (albedo), Harry truly understands what Aragog said, that is what happened 50 years before. He is not in the dark anymore but in the white of the moonlight, as is Ron a moment later: “Ron rubbed his eyes, frowning through the moonlight. And then he understood. ‘You don’t think – not Moaning Myrtle?” (209).

- Black and death references though are still here in the “The chamber of secrets” chapter, all bound to Ginny and the chamber [“Her skeleton will lie in the Chamber forever” (217)]. She also lives her own black process in that book.

- But when Fawkes, now radiant again, appears during Harry’s fight with Riddle, his red process begins as we saw. Thanks to Fawkes, and to Gryffindor’s sword – his “white weapon”7 – Harry has achieved his quest and, thus, symbolically, reached gold. So says the text of their way back in the tunnel: “Led by Fawkes, whose wide scarlet wings emitted a soft golden glow in the darkness” (238) and then in the castle “Fawkes was leading the way, glowing gold along the corridor.” (240).

Some other key symbols in the books:

Some of those symbols were not used only by the alchemists but the meaning they gave to them, as the use they made of mythological and astrological traditions, was specific and is very rich when applied to HP.

* The mirror represents the beginning of the Work because it is a reflection of nature. It is also meant “to show the invisible from the visible so that one can see what is hidden” (Encyclopédie des symboles 415). It is also the symbol of the reflection between the earth and the heavens, the body and the mind. This symbolism fits very well with the mirrors we encounter in the HP universe, beginning with the Mirror of Erised, which indeed shows what is hidden, showing first Harry’s and Ron’s secret desires and then the hidden Stone. In CoS, when Hermione is found petrified, she carries a mirror with which she hides a secret, the truth about the basilisk that will put Harry on the right path. There is also Moody’s Foe-glass, which shows hidden enemies. The pensieve, whose “glassy substance” (GoF 507) reveals the past, is also bound to the mirror symbolism.

* The maze symbolises the whole Work with its two main difficulties: the path the alchemist must follow to reach the centre of it (where the “fight” between the alchemical principles happens) and the other one leading out of the maze. For that, he needs the Ariadne's thread which myth has a very important symbolical meaning. Ariadne means "araignée" (spider) and the Ariadne' s thread symbolises knowledge and the assistance of the Masters who preceded the alchemist (Fulcanelli 63). How not to think of the GoF maze? It leads Harry to the fight with Voldemort and he will return from it thanks to his parents, to “the knowledge of the ones who came before” indeed.

In CoS, this symbol can also be applied to Hogwarts and its “labyrinthine passages” (CoS 164), to spiders climbing “a long silvery thread” (CoS 117) which will lead Harry to Aragog’s knowledge. When he reaches the centre of the Hogwarts maze later, in the chamber, it is the assistance of the masters who came before him (Gryffindor and Dumbledore) that will save him and help him going out of it.

The Ministry of Magic is another interesting maze which Harry went all over so many times while sleeping and had so much trouble finding its centre in OotP.

The Marauder’s map shows the same symbolism, as we see when the twins make it work for the first time: “thin ink began to spread like a spider’s web from the point that George’s wand had touched” (PoA 143)…

Dedalus Diggle is also connected to that symbol. In mythology, Dedalus is the one who built the maze and told Ariadne to give Theseus a thread. Harry meets him twice in PS, especially at the Leaky Cauldron, just before he enters that other “maze” that is the wizarding world.

Aragog’s death in the HBP, which helps Harry discovering Slughorn’s memory, is bound to that symbol too. In book 7, Harry will have to reach the centre of the Wizarding World maze at last, where he will fight Voldemort. His Ariadne’s thread, in and out of that maze, is –in my opinion– most certainly Snape. His house, at “Spinner’s End” and the “deserted labyrinth of brick houses” described there (HBP 27) reinforce that theory.

* The ouroboros is a dragon, or a snake, biting its own tail. It represents the end of the Work, perfection, eternity, the beginning and the end at the same time. The circle symbol, very present in the series, has the same meaning. In alchemy, it also represents a conception of learning: the one who learns makes some progress and the one who makes some progress wants to learn more. Each book covers a year in Harry’s life and hence makes a circle: each year he makes some progress and learns more about his past and universe. Some details reinforce that symbolism: PoA begins with the “Owl Post” chapter and ends with the “Owl Post Again” one. GoF’s last chapter is called “The Beginning”…

The ouroboros also suggests that some characters may “bite their own tail” in the end and cancel themselves out: Draco (dragon in Latin) Malfoy, Wormtail(“worm” as snake) and, of course, snake-like Voldemort. Wormtail’s silvery hand, whose matter first reminds of quicksilver, liquid mercury, reinforces that idea. Mercury, the god, is also Hermes, “the messenger” and Wormtail, for now Voldemort’s messenger, can well become the fate’s messenger eventually. In the HBP, we start seeing that evolution in Draco.

* Hermes’ messenger symbolism is also to be found in Percy’s owl name. Mercury/Hermes is also the guide of the alchemist and of the spiritual research. A nice connection can be made here with Hermione: HermyOne, the hermetic one, whose initials are HG, the chemical element mercury symbol, and can be seen as JK Rowlings’ messenger in the books.

* Some animals of the alchemical bestiary are to be connected with HP characters:

  • The peacock can be connected to Gilderoy Lockhart. “Gilde” (golden) “roi” (king) shines but he is only fake gold. He has an “enormous peacock quill” (CoS 123) and is always wearing different shades of blue or green, the peacock’s colours. In alchemy, the peacock symbolises the visible transformation that happens to the Materia Prima during the last stage of the Great Work but, more interesting, it sometimes also symbolises a process that has failed, only giving impurities, which fits very well with Lockhart.
  • The salamander symbol, also represented by a woman with long hair like flames, can be connected to the Weasleys and also to Lily Potter. The Weasleys and Lily are often described as having flaming hair, and the Weasleys are sometimes connected to real salamanders or, even more often, to fire or fireworks. The salamander represents the inner Salt (an alchemical principle) which can’t burn and remains in the ashes of burnt metals and also quicksilver, the spirit creator of the world trapped inside the matter. It is also meant to extinguish the fire at will. Lily has gone but who she was influences Harry and her spirit may still help him again, as in GoF. It is also a nice metaphor of the unfailing support Ron and his family represent for Harry.
  • The grey wolf and the dog symbols are very important. The grey wolf symbolises antimony and the dog “raw metals” (gold and sulphur) before their purification during the work. The process of the purification of gold by antimony is symbolised by a wolf devouring a dog. How not to think of Lupin, the werewolf, and Sirius, the dog animagus, who fight in PoA? Lupin’s help in this book will indeed allow Harry to symbolically “purify” that gold, that is to discover Sirius’ true nature, the golden heart of an innocent man. The Grey Wolf is also a guide for the alchemist, as is Lupin for Harry. The way Lupin is described in PoA reinforces the Grey Wolf image, as in the train: “ his light-brown hair has flecked with grey” (59), he had a “tired grey face” (65), or at Hogwarts: “A ray of wintry sunlight fell across the classroom, illuminating Lupin’s grey hair and the lines on his young face.” (140)

* Planets: Alchemists saw the cosmos as a whole thing, in which everything was interconnected. They used a system of connections, based on the number 7, in which the 7 metals they used were connected to 7 planets, 7 colours, 7 parts of the body, the 7 notes of the octave… 7 is a key number, recurring along the 7 books. Saturn was mentioned in connection with the nigredo process but other planets are important in the books, especially Mars. In alchemy, Mars means iron, but also war, from the god symbolism, and rubedo, that is his reign. Harry seems to be very bound to that planet: the story starts on a Tuesday (Mars day), he receives his first Hogwarts letter and turns 11 on Tuesdays too. In PS, centaurs keep saying “Mars is bright tonight”; in CoS, Dobby has to iron his hands… In GoF, Sybill’s predictions all have Mars connections, especially before the tasks. In other words, Mars, war, comes for Harry; but it is also the red process, the one he will reach through that war, at the very end.8

The alchemical principles and the Harry-Hermione-Ron trio

* Sulphur and Mercury: Basically, alchemy is based on dualism and first on the fundamental opposition male-female. The Great Work is the union, the conjunction, of the male element, Sulphur, and the female element, Mercury. In alchemy, every "characteristic" of an element has its counterpart (Hutin 70-76):

Sulphur - -- - Mercury
Male - - - - - Female
Fire - - - - - -Water
Hot-dry - - - Cold-humid
Gold - - - - - Silver
Sun - - - - - -Moon

King - - - - - Queen (…)

In that perspective, Harry may be seen symbolically as sulphur, since solar and gold symbols are always bound to him (the Gryffindor house’s lion, colours, and round rooms; the sword, his round glasses, his scar shaped like the “S-like” rune for sun…). Mercury can be bound to Hermione, through her initials (HG=mercury) and also because she is really Harry's female counterpart. When they act as one, they are symbolically the alchemical hermaphroditic couple: as in PoA, when they use the time-turner and are bound by the golden chain, or OotP in which they become a fighting pair, during the Ministry of Magic battle: Harry grabs Hermione's robes, and they proceed to defend each other's bodies from the spells.

* Salt: Some alchemists added a third element to Sulphur and Mercury: Salt that is what is palpable. Ron can then be connected to the Salt symbol (cf the salamander). Since PS, it is the trio's combined actions that make them progress. This is the triad symbolism: 3 entities exist by themselves but are also only one single entity; they’re not the same but complement each other, which fits perfectly with our trio. The way Ron and Hermione stand by Harry’s side at the end of the HBP reinforces the idea that they will indeed “act as one” in book 7.


Alchemists believed in the relation between the macrocosm and the microcosm: the universe was organised in concentric spheres (from planets to men, from men to minerals), hence the connections between metals, planets, organs… The key principle of that organisation was balance, harmony. They believed in the theory of the balance of the 4 elements (air, fire, water, earth) and the 4 humours (sanguine, melancholic, bilious – Ron’s second name is Bilius – phlegmatic, think of Fleur’s “Phlegm” nickname in the HBP).

This is a fantastic metaphor for Hogwarts’ houses and their founders and JK Rowling confirmed after the HBP release that the 4 houses were bound to the 4 elements9. We already saw that in CoS for example, when Professor Binns says that they “built this castle together” and that “For a few years, the founders worked in harmony together.” (CoS 114). But when Slytherin left Hogwarts, he broke that balance and hence, the balance of the Wizarding World. Voldemort’s actions still are the consequences and illustration of that severing. So, Harry’s true aim may be to restore this balance by first reunifying Hogwarts and then defeating Voldemort. His fate and the wizarding world’s fate are closely bound, as what happens to the microcosm happens to the macrocosm as well.

In the same interview, JK Rowling mentioned this idea when she said: it is “the very Dumbledore-esque hope that they will achieve union, and they will achieve harmony. Harmony is the word” and again, talking about the 4 houses and the 4 elements: “So again, it was this idea of harmony and balance, that you had four necessary components and by integrating them you would make a very strong place.” Quintessence: a quest, indeed...


"Let the work of the Potter, consisting of dryness and moisture, instruct you." said once the alchemist Michael Maier (Atalanta Fugiens XV). While our Potter still has a lot to learn from the Potters who preceded him, we also have still a lot to learn from him, before the journey ends, before the phoenix flies away…



1. The veil symbolism : Harry Potter Lexicon forum, see post 650 on the “alchemy symbols thread Part I”. ^ back to article

2. Very often in the series, the Lake is described as being black, dark... as in PS (p.83): "The narrow path had opened suddenly on to the edge of a great black lake." Or in CoS (p.58): "Glancing out of his window, Harry saw the smooth, black, glassy surface of the water, a mile below.". ^ back to article

3. See the Lexicon Forums alchemy thread for more information about alchemical symbolism in the HBP. ^ back to article

4. The Leaky Cauldron and Mugglenet interview JK Rowling, 16 July 2005. ^ back to article

5. For more details about Fawkes symbolism, see the Harry Potter Lexicon forum, especially the posts 564 on the “alchemy symbols” thread (part I) and the post 120, on the “alchemy symbols” thread (part II). ^ back to article

6. In the HBP, the first time we see Harry, he is asleep too. ^ back to article

7. A more complete “alchemical” reading of all the books of the series can be found on the HP-Lexicon forum alchemy symbols threads. See post 124, on the Alchemy symbols thread part II, for the sword symbolism in alchemy. ^ back to article

8. A lot of other symbols have been discussed on the Lexicon forums alchemy threads, as alcohol, baths, the basilisk, the crucible, dragons, dragon’s blood, doors, eggs, eagles, lions, flowers/Fleur, glasses, geomancy, the green and red colours, the Hanged Man, music, the meaning of numbers, “Newt Scamander”, quintessence, toads, stags, smells, unicorns, vitriol… They can be found using the search function on those threads. ^ back to article

9. The Leaky Cauldron and Mugglenet interview JK Rowling, 16 July 2005. ^ back to article



  • Cazenave, Michel (under the supervision of). Encyclopédie des symboles Paris: Librairie Générale Française, 1996.
  • Fulcanelli. Le Mystère des Cathédrales. Paris: Editions Pauvert, 1979
  • Gineste, Léon L'alchimie expliquée par son langage. Paris: Dervy, 2001
  • Hutin, Serge. L'alchimie. Paris: PUF, 1999.

The whole paper is based on researches made by a group of members of the HP Lexicon forum on two threads: "Alchemy symbols: silver to gold/4 temperaments" part 1 (archived) and 2. You can get to the forum from the Harry Potter Lexicon site ( The author (Elanor on the threads) would thank all the members who contribute to the threads and the Lexicon Forum staff for their support.