Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Blood of Lily

Yes, I'm on an Egyptian mythology roll, because in doing last week's post on Luna as the Eye of Harry/Horus, I discovered quite a few other links JK Rowling made to these old myths.  And here's one that seems so obvious to me now, that I don't know why I didn't see it before.

When I first started reading the Potter series, I always wondered with each new book why Harry had to return to the dreaded Dursleys each summer.  Sure, as a writer I understood Rowling's desire to frame and pattern the story with Harry's annual exodus and return to the Muggle world, but as a reader, I kept wondering why Harry couldn't be allowed to go live with the Weasleys.

Of course this was all explained when Dumbledore talked about the spell of protection that he'd used to keep Voldemort from finding and harming Harry as long as he could call #4 Privet Drive his home.  A spell that was born of the shared blood between Petunia and Lily.

However, this protection, dependent on a familial bond between two sisters who had no longer shared a relationship, always seemed a bit odd to me.  And, as I've said before, any time Jo does something that seems a bit odd, you can guarantee that she's playing with either literary or mythological allusions.  And the blood-spell protection is a prime example.

Consider the Egyptian amulet, the tyet, also known as the Blood of Isis (and we've discussed the links between Lily and Isis here and here).  An ancient relic whose original meaning is shrouded in mystery, it has been theorized that the tyet, usually a red stone carving, represented either the knot on Isis' belt, which demonstrated her ability to both bind and release magic, or a cloth used to stem menstrual flow, and thus the "blood" imagery.  The tyet was worn by women as well as used a funerary amulet, meaning it was quite often found wrapped in the bindings of the mummy, and was supposed to help in the deceased's journey to new life.

In The Book of the Dead, spell 156, used to bless the tyet, states, "You possess your blood, Isis, you possess your power, Isis, you possess your magic, Isis. The amulet is a protection for this Great One, which will drive away whoever would commit a crime against him."

With the above spell, it's easy to see why Jo would have placed this amulet on Harry as protection against Voldemort.  The blood of Lily, sacrificed to save her son, and shared with her sister Petunia, is the tyet amulet, the Blood of Isis, which Dumbledore used to drive off Voldemort from harming Harry:

   "You would be protected by an ancient magic of which he [Voldemort] knows, which he despises, and which he has always, therefore, underestimated -- to his cost.  I am speaking, of course, of the fact that your mother died to save you.  She gave you a lingering protection he never expected, a protection that flows in your veins to this day.  I put my trust, therefore, in your mother's blood.  I delivered you to her sister, her only remaining relative."
   "She doesn't love me," said Harry at once.  "She doesn't give a damn--"
   "But she took you," Dumbledore cut across him.  "She may have taken you grudgingly, furiously, unwillingly, bitterly, yet still she took you, and in doing so, she sealed the charm I placed upon you.  Your mother's sacrifice made the bond of blood the strongest shield I could give you." (Order of the Phoenix, p. 736-7, Bloomsbury)

Lily's blood protection that flowed in Harry's veins was like a Blood of Isis amulet Harry wore which prevented Quirrel/Vapormort from touching him in Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone.  It was this same type of protection which Dumbledore placed upon Harry to protect him for all those years at Privet Drive.

Isn't that cool?

I love the idea of playing with old myths and beliefs in a new way, and JK Rowling was a master of it.  Her world is teeming with these subtextual allusions that keep her fans discovering anew, even years after the last book was released.  As a writer, I want to play with these techniques myself.  Have you?

For more information on the Blood of Isis, check out this excellent article at Tour Egypt.