Wednesday, August 25, 2010

When is a Horcrux not a Horcrux?

When it is an ancient Cross of Horus.

Many of you have probably heard of an ancient Egyptian amulet called the ankh, which is still popular in jewelry today.  And you may even know that it was a symbol representing eternal life.

But did you also know that it was sometimes called the Crux Ansata by Coptic Christians and early Egyptologists, who also referred to it as the Cross of Horus?

Why Horus?  Well, the god Horus was the son of Osiris.  Osiris, the father, represented the deceased Pharoah.  Horus the son, however, was the embodiment of the Pharoah who lived. He was commonly pictured as a falcon, lord of the skies.  In paintings on tomb walls of the Egyptian judgment scene, the weighing of the heart, you would frequently see Horus with his falcon head, carrying the ankh, the Cross of Horus, to impart the breath of eternal life to the lips of the deceased.  He could also withhold the ankh and thus deny eternal life to those whose hearts were weighted down by misdeeds.  (Note: Many Egyptian gods and goddesses were shown holding the ankh, not just Horus, but in the Weighing of the Hearts scene, it was usually Horus who carried this key to life when presenting the deceased to Osiris for final judgment).

So, what does any of this have to do with Harry Potter?  Well, my other obsession with Harry Potter, besides helping writers learn to improve their own craft, has been in tracing the Egyptian mythological references which run through JK Rowling's stories.  I think there are many, and I think the Horcrux is one of them.

Hor + Crux = Cross of Horus.

For Voldemort, his Horcruxes gave him eternal life.  But when Harry, who represents Horus, got involved, they led to his final death.  Harry urged Voldemort to account for his murderous misdeeds.  When Voldemort refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing, it was Harry/Horus, who denied him eternal life.

Most fans are familiar with the Greek, Nordic, and even Druid references which JKR wove into her subtext.  But not as many picked up on the Egyptian.  I think the Egyptian may have even been primary.  In fact, I think that the whole reason for JKR to place Bill as a curse-breaker in Egypt, was to point the way there. But when I first presented the Horcrux = Cross of Horus theory back in 2005 at the Witching Hour conference in Salem MA, very few people were onto JKR's use of Egyptian subtext.  Now, lots of fans have caught on.

Over the years, I've analyzed many of these Egyptian references through the series and will share them, with time, here.  Follow the Egyptian Mythology label to read them all.

And why point these out?  Because in seeing how JKR used ancient myths and symbols as subtext for her stories, we can do the same.  This layer of subtext is what gave her series such a rich depth and hooked her readers into searching out all the clues within.

Fans delighted in finding these Easter Eggs of clues, hidden deep within her text.  They scoured the Internet, searching out the meaning, and then plastered their theories of what was to come in the series based on their interpretation.

As writers, especially if your story has mystery or fantasy elements, weaving in this layer of subtext will delight and engage your reader.  Studying how it has been done by a successful author will help you improve your own craft.

Have you used any ancient symbols or myths to add subtext to your story?


  1. I really like what you explained here. I am surprised at what you've picked up! Really cool. I haven't tried using a lot of "ancient" references before, but now I just might.

  2. That's really interesting! I don't know a lot about Ancient Egyptian culture, but I had definitely tried to put in some Ancient Greek and Roman myths into my writing before. It's really fun trying to find ways of disguising it (though I admit, the last time I used it, I did it very poorly, naming characters "Nero" and "Solon". Fail.)

  3. Hi BookGeek and Jodi -- thanks so much for your comments! I'm glad you liked this, but there's so much more to say. I'll continue to post under these labels because I enjoy the Egyptian Mythology so much, and there's a lot of it, I believe, in the HP books. And Jodi, I have some suggestions for weaving in myth refs. I'll get to that eventually.

  4. I agree. JK researched her books to add depth and rich symbolic meaning. It is why they read so well.

  5. Hi Elaine. You're right - that research and those rich layers of meaning is what makes adults enjoy her books as much as kids!

    Thanks so much for visiting and posting.

  6. Another excellent post. Thank you :) I didn't really notice these clues in the books before I came across your blog, and now I'm hooked, although I don't really know much about Egyptian or Greek mythology. :) Could you, perhaps, recommend some books to read about the mythologies? I know that there's much information about this topic on Wikipedia, but still. :)

  7. Thanks Sepa! So glad you like my posts.

    When you ask about a book on the mythologies, do you mean on mythology in general? On Egyptian mythology in particular? Or are you looking for something that analyzes the mythologies in Harry Potter?

  8. I meant books specialised on a specific kind of mythology, because they could be more detailed, and I think that could be more useful. (But also a bit intimidating at first...)

    So yes, a book on Egyptian mythology would be interesting to read.

  9. Sepa, I'm sorry it's taken me a while to respond. If you want a really intense read, I'd recommend anything by Joseph Campbell. If you like your mythology with a theosophy twist, Manly Hall is also fascinating.

    To be honest, there's some fabulous resources online. This may sound silly, but has some great posts on Egyptian mythology. Also will usually put up some comprehensive survey articles, though I find their site hard to navigate.

    Beyond this, I've got a motley collection of the large coffee-table style picture books of myths that I just love for the pictures. They don't go in-depth, but I can get a quick overview of what I'm interested in, then search out the details online.

    I hope that helps.