Magdalena Scholle - The Journey of Life and the Mythical Structures In the Movie 'Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone'


Truth is one; the wise call it by many names.

The Vedic Aphorism


According to the theory of monomyth, or the hero's journey by Joseph Campbell, in ancient tales we can find some universal patterns, archetypes, and themes, which occur in the myths of all cultures. Campbell was convinced, that since the birth of the first legend a common pattern connects the culture-building stories of all humanity regardless of how isolated one culture may have been from others. The movie Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone is a wonderful example of a story that fulfills this common structure of ancient tales.


The most important element of the universal tale is the hero, who travels along a path of adventures, and undergoes a transformation through a series of challenging experiences. In the hero's journey, Campbell identified seventeen discrete stages through which the hero of a story passes to reach transformation. These stages can be divided into three general sections: departure (or separation), initiation, and return, each of which can be seen quite clearly in the movie Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone, as will be shown in the next section of this essay. The second section of the essay will also show that the story of Harry can be read in two ways. Firstly, it can be read literally, and treated as an ordinary fairy tale for children, describing the journey of an eleven-year boy into the world of magic. Secondly, it can be understood allegorically, as the hero's journey to the Self, to the internal world. In terms of the second interpretation, the story of Harry Potter can be seen symbolically as the Ego's journey to realize the potentialities of the Self. A key element to identifying the allegory is an attempt to understand the process of development in terms of the Jungian process of individuation (or maturity), which takes place in the main character. Finally, the third section of the essay is devoted to the indication of Jungian archetypes, which are associated with the process of individuation. I am particularly interested here with the activation and targeting strength of archetypes, which directly or indirectly affect the development of the identity of the hero.




Know thyself.

The Delphic Maxims


At the beginning of the movie we see the hero in his world – the world from which he originates, and with which he is most familiar. This is a very important moment in his story, because soon he will get the call to a completely different and alien world. Two unlike realities, the “muggle” world and the wizard world, appear here in contrast: known and unknown, or better, conscious and unconscious. It should be noted that Harry does not know the truth about his origins, and he does not know the real cause of the death of his parents. He believes himself to be an ordinary boy. He even says about himself that that he is nothing special, “just Harry”. Perhaps the author of the Harry Potter book series, J. K. Rowling, intentionally chose a pretty ordinary name and surname to emphasize that Harry is a model of a universal character, so that everyone could empathize with him. Also, the fact that Harry lives in a tiny closet at the foot of the stairs has special significance. His dark room can be seen as a symbol of the things that he knows, a symbol of his current, narrow consciousness. It is worth noting that only in this small space does he feel safe. Here he can escape from his unkind aunt and uncle, and his malicious cousin. As we know, people generally have a fear of the unknown, and that fear keeps them in their current circumstances, as in a trap. This kind of fear is expressed in the personality of Uncle Vernon, who knows of the wizarding world but fears all news from it and therefore fears the face of truth. Young Harry also is affected by this fear. When he receives a letter from The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizards, and with it the call to adventure, he hesitates. For a moment he is unsure of his decision just as his uncle has seemingly lived his entire life. In the terminology of Campbell it is exactly a moment of refusal of the call. But, there is also another voice, the voice of a mentor, a protective figure, and in this moment it is the voice of Rubeus Hagrid. He convinces Harry to respond positively to the call to adventure. Hagrid also gives him the first indication (supernatural aid) of how to struggle with the unknown, or in other words, with the unconscious. Consequently Harry is strong enough to oppose his uncle, and he no longer fears going to Hogwarts.


This decision can be seen as the first positive response to the questions: is the hero ready to deal with the sphere of his ignorance; does he wants to open the door to the world of truth; does he want to know who he really is? Campbell called this important moment " a sphere of rebirth", or "the belly of the whale". It is the beginning of the death of his old identity, and the birth of the new. Notable is that from this point Harry begins to feel a strong desire to know the truth about himself, and he asks Hagrid about some details of the history of his parents. He also now begins to realize that he is no longer “just Harry”, but someone special; someone known to the entire wizarding world; someone whose name engenders respect; and even a kind of fear. He also discovers that the most dangerous wizard of all time, Lord Voldemort not only is the killer of his parents, but also fears and hates Harry. It seems that upon gaining this knowledge, Harry begins to understand that he will have to confront his own past. From this point, he will try to figure out what it was that spared his life and reciprocally almost killed Voldemort. Harry’s dilemmas can be seen as a symbolic description of the human struggle with one’s own past, which often negatively casts shadows on the present life.


There is no doubt that in order to win against the repercussions of his family history with Voldemort, what might be called the “nightmare of the past,” Harry must be properly prepared for his fight. As we remember, Hagrid takes the boy shopping to the streets of Diagon Alley. There, Harry buys items necessary for the "new world," namely, a magic wand and textbooks. These things have symbolic meaning in his story, too. A magical wand is essential to conduct a magical fight in the wizarding world; therefore it symbolizes the physical forces that are necessary to win against the “nightmare” of the past. In contrast, the books are a symbol of openness to acquiring new knowledge, and the mental battle of hero with his own self. The owl that Harry received from Hagrid is also a symbol of wisdom and openness to knowledge.


Having gained the necessary tools to fight, the hero is ready for the next stage in the Cambellian sequence, the initiation, which will mark the first of many of trials. At this stage, in Campbell’s words, “The hero is covertly aided by the advice, amulets, and secret agents of the supernatural helper whom he met before his entrance into this region.” For Harry’s story, the gateway to the unknown world is a solid wall on the railway station, which Harry must somehow pass through. This wall can be understood as a metaphor for the threshold of consciousness. He has the good fortune to watch other students make the crossing before he succeeds himself.


At the beginning of his trip to Hogwarts, Harry meets his first and greatest friends, Ron and Hermione. The choice of these personalities for companions of the main character does not seem accidental. Each represents different mental functions. Harry, directed mainly by his intuition, does not yet have knowledge about the magical world. With the help of Hermione, in whom the thinking function dominates, and Ron, in whom the sensual function dominates, Harry gains basic information about the new world.


According to the theory of Campbell, while passing through the initiation stage, the hero may be exposed to all kinds of temptations that will try to distract him from the successful path. Campbell describes it as "woman as temptress." This is seen in the movie when Draco Malfoy tries to convince Harry to abandon his friendship with Ron and join Draco’s group. Harry refuses. Later, the Sorting Hat introduces doubt into Harry’s mind – that perhaps Slytherin would be as good a home for him – but again Harry’s refusal of Slytherin guides his path. Another much more dangerous temptation that he will have to fight several times is the temptation to restore his past. The symbols of this temptation are reflections of the past that the hero sees in the magical Mirror of Erised. It is worth noting that the mirror does not provide new knowledge; it does not show the truth. It only shows memories of the past and the greatest desires of the viewer’s heart. Thus, the magical mirror is a symbol of mental regression – and that is exactly what Dumbledore meant when he emphasized that when people are watching their reflections in the mirror, they are losing their time. Enchanted by what they see, they can fall into madness, because they do not see truth, they see only what they desire to see. According to the headmaster of Hogwarts, only a truly happy person can use The Mirror of Erised as an ordinary mirror, that is, he/she can see just a normal reflection. As we can guess, the psyche of that ideal observer does not bear any trauma from the past. Thus, at this stage of the journey the hero is confronted, face-to-face with the most dangerous "monster" of his life, namely the dream of a return to the past. The literal embodiment of this dream can be seen in Lord Voldemort, who’s story arc focuses entirely on his return to a former state, has become the master of the body and mind of Professor Quirrell.


In the first step of his fight, Harry has to overcome himself, his fears, and the weaknesses of his own psyche. Dumbledore helps him in this fight. He convinces Harry that it is not worth going back to the past; it is not worth it to use the mirror. Also helping in this struggle with “the nightmare of the past” areHermione and Ron with their respective thinking and sensate strengths. They come with him to the deepest caves, where the Sorcerer's Stone is hidden. A grotto undoubtedly can be interpreted as a symbol of the unknown, the unconscious. Although friends will accompany him to the final fight, ultimately, Harry must act alone. He must master his psyche and its desires, and by doing so set the path that leads to self-actualization.


In the story, acquiring the philosopher’s stone is equivalent to gaining immortality. This is a temptation Voldemort could not resist, and Harry fought with it as well. It is worth noting that the spirit of Voldemort is presented in the form of a serpent, a symbol of temptation and demonic evil. The pursuit of immortality, the eternal dream of humanity, connects the two characters, although one wants it only for himself, while the other wants to bring back his parents. The desire for immortality can also be seen as a symbol of a dream to return to the past.


As we know, Harry wins against the "demon of the past" and he can begin the return journey. But before he can proceed to the final stage of his journey, the spirit of Voldemort attacks him again, and the boy loses consciousness. This represents a symbolic death and rebirth (Harry later wakes up in the school’s infirmary). In the terminology of Campbell the last moment is a moment of apotheosis, or glorification. Apotheosis appears at the end of the hero’s journey, when all treasures will be found. There is no doubt, that Harry won the treasure. In his case, it is not just self-knowledge, but also an ability to control his own desires. Dumbledore expresses this in the final scene: “(…) only one who wanted to find the Stone – find it, but not use it – would be able to get it, otherwise they’d just see themselves making gold or drinking the Elixir of Life.”



Enriched by this knowledge, Harry returns to the ordinary world. His journey through the world of magic has ended, and with it ends his delving into the unknown. He successfully discovered the darkest recesses of his mind, freed himself from the "demon of the past", and reigned over the content of his subconscious, meaning it is no longer, for the moment, dangerous to him. It is worth recalling the sentence of Jung: "by understanding the unconscious we free ourselves from its domination.”




Your worst enemy cannot harm you as

much as your own unguarded thoughts.



According to the theory of C.G. Jung, the process of individuation (also referred to as maturity of self-realization) is the greatest challenge of every individual life. The journey requires the development of the Ego so as to incorporate the unconscious and transform into the Self. Jung believed that manifested inherently deep within the psyche are such archetypes as the Shadow, the Persona, and the Anima/Animus. They are expressions of human characteristics that are common to every culture. Individual consciousness can be dominated by archetypes, and governed by their contents. Thus, learning about them and recognizing them are important for the discovery of the true nature of one’s own Self.


The first stage of the process of individuation, through which Harry passes, is the clear separation of his Ego. From beyond his small world, symbolized by the closet under the stairs, the need to search for his own Self is imposed upon him by new external (and magical) forces. This need will be particularly evident when he has contact with the form of the Shadow (i.e., the urge to know the murderer of his parents and to return to his past), which will force him to choose a path. The Shadow as understood by Jung is a "personal

darkness," or the black content in the human psyche, which in the course of an individual’s life is not initially visible to consciousness, because it has been rejected and repressed by it. The recognition of the Shadow, and the confrontation with it, is an extremely important step in the individual’s personal journey, according to Jung, because it allows him or her to achieve full control of their own psyche. The specific goal of the initiation process is the emergence of a self-conscious Ego.


For Harry the shadow exists in both the known and unknown worlds. In the ordinary known world the incarnate visage of the Shadow is Uncle Vernon. His attitude expresses fear of knowing the truth, thus he symbolizes this part of the psyche that is refusing to recognize the truth that the unconscious must be acknowledged. However, a much more dangerous manifestation of the Shadow exists in the unknown world. It is revealed gradually in the person of Voldemort. This figure is standing in his way, limiting him and preventing him from reaching the depths of his unconscious.


Lord Voldemort embodies everything that is negative, cruel, and bad. His behavior and his words bring to mind the psychopath from the famous American thriller The Silence of the Lambs. However, in contrast to the hero of that thriller, Voldemort does feel fear. In fact he is dominated by a fear of death, and therefore he is consumed by a quest to gain immortality by any means available to him. To achieve this goal, Voldemort wants to gain control over the psyche of Harry, similar to how he controlled the mind of Quirrell, thereby forcing Harry to act according to his will. In this regard Voldemort represents the threat of the unconscious dominating the Ego. Harry is uncomfortably reminded many times that he shares in fact a great many similarities with Voldemort: both were orphans, both are gifted with the ability to speak Parseltongue, and both had Dumbledore as their guardians. As much as Harry initially desires to reject Voldemort, it is his eventual recognition of their indelible connection (Harry could feel Voldemort's emotions and intentions, and he could feel empathy for Voldemort in his soul) that eventually allows him to triumph.


Another Jungian archetype that Harry encounters is the Persona. The Persona is the archetype established by compromise between individual aspirations and social expectations. In this sense it is a mask under which we hide our true Ego. In the movie, Quirinius Quirrell, who is sharing his soul with Lord Voldemort, assumes the mask of professor of defense against the Dark Arts. Quirrell is an example of a man who was not able to overcome his own Shadow, and gave it full control over his entire psyche. Assuming the persona of a kindly mentor, the professor wanted to be accepted in society as someone other than who he was in reality. However, this decision costs him dearly. Quirrell walks unsteadily, stutters, and lives in permanent fear that someone will discover the truth by seeing the back of his head, behind which hides the face of the Dark Lord. Undoubtedly, his physical aspect symbolizes a two-faced man.


Professor Severus Snape represents another type of the Persona. He takes a mask of a man threatening, insensitive, and crude. However, in contrast to Quirrell, he is exonerated and is found to be a person who only wants to protect his privacy. In later stories it is learned why this is. In this movie he simply does not want “to play with open cards,” which is a common phrase used in Poland to describe such a person. In his masquerade he is a true champion, because except Dumbledore, no one knows his true plans.


It should be mentioned that Harry learns how to create his own mask to further his quest by incorporating some of the masks of others with whom he has come into contact. For example, he creates the mask of self-assurance in order to confront Draco and his gang, even though Harry is full of self-doubt. He needs to create a mask of indifference to be able to fight Quirrell as well. In order to take charge of Ron and Hermione and guide them all though and around the various obstacles that were set up to prevent him from reaching the stone, I think Harry also had to create the mask of a leader when in the Grotto.


The next step in Jung’s process of individuation is to recognize the Anima, the feminine image in a man's psyche, and the Animus, the masculine image in a woman's psyche. A characteristic feature of these archetypes is a certain ambivalence, which in extreme cases can lead to changing the roles between men and women. Undoubtedly, Hagrid is an example of a man feeling the interior experience of the Anima. He is a half-giant, and a wild man, who lives alone at the edge of the Forbidden Forest. Beneath his physical strength and masculine appearance, he protects a feminine sensibility, which is notable in his care of a baby dragon. Hagrid feels truly motherly affections, and begins to treat the dragon almost like his own child. Emotions overwhelm him when a dragon hatches from the egg. He sings lullabies to it and talks to it like a mother to a small human baby. Tearfully, he says goodbye to his pet when it turns out that he cannot keep it forever. He prepares some dragon treats for it, and provides a small teddy bear to keep it from being lonely.


The opposite kind of archetype is represented by Hermione, who demonstrates the Animus projection. Hermione is a very small girl with long hair and no athletic ambitions. However she is very brave, thinks logically, and does not express her emotions easily. Her internal life is quite masculine.


Getting to know the ins and outs of his unconscious, Harry, slowly reaches the ultimate goal of the process of individuation, namely his own Self. This is the moment in which Harry says, “I want to know the truth.” A guide and a projection of the Self is Dumbledore, who has Harry's best interest at heart. He helps him to begin to find himself. Dumbledore is the embodiment of the wise mentor, who provides guidance and helps Harry understand the secrets of his own nature. He also reveals the real reason why Voldemort could not kill Harry. Not insignificant is his old age, because the Self is usually revealed in middle or old age when other elements of personality are fully developed and varied. It should be emphasized, that only Dumbledore knows Snape’s true intentions, and he is the only one who does not fear Voldemort. It is Dumbledore who advises Harry not to fear the demon of the past. “Call him Voldemort, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.” The role of Dumbledore, who is an actualized Self, is extremely important, because he is working to ensure unity, balance, and stability in the personality of Harry.




One does not become enlightened by imagining

figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.

C.G. Jung


An analysis of the journey of Harry shows that individuation is a complicated process that requires intense effort and is accompanied by real suffering. Additionally, this process can be dangerous, because from the archetypes arise huge forces that the consciousness must recognize and learn to control. Beyond a doubt Harry is a hero, who bravely overcomes great difficulty in order to develop his own identity and to protect his people. He chooses to be a part of Gryffindor, and not to call Slytherin home, and this choice in particular is intended to show that it is up to each of us to decide the path we will take. I believe the story employees Jungian archetypes to help the hero to make conscious choices, and leads him to a true transformation.


Happily, Harry finds the way of dialogue between his consciousness and unconsciousness, and he survives the confrontation with the unknown content of his psyche. This content ceases for the time being to be dangerous to him. He comes to better knowledge of the Self and to a stable mental existence. I think that his effort is worthwhile, because by encountering and accepting to some extent the archetypes put in his path, he learns that they are manifestations of every soul, especially his own.