In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling finally unveils Harry’s ultimate quest: a search for relics of Tom Riddle’s past, which Harry must destroy in order to overcome the evil that is Lord Voldemort. But what are these relics and why does Voldemort covet them? A relic by definition is something cherished for its age or historic interest or an object of religious veneration, especially a piece of the body or a personal item of a saint. Relics were therefore enshrined on altars, carried in processions, and used to obtain cures and other favours.1 Dumbledore recounts that Voldemort “liked to collect trophies, and he preferred objects with a powerful magical history... He would have chosen his objects with some care, favouring objects worthy of the honour.” 2 These magical objects would be the most powerful type of vessels, having a magical history from being owned by the most powerful of wizards. Harry and Dumbledore discuss objects that Tom Riddle may have desired to use as Horcruxes, including two objects relating to his questionable family history. These two objects, the Gaunt ring and Voldemort’s school diary, join Voldemort’s snake Nagini and three objects related to the four founders of Hogwarts, Helga Hufflepuff’s Cup, Salazar Slytherin’s Locket and something as of yet unknown from Rowena Ravenclaw or Godric Gryffindor. However, as J.K. Rowling is so very gifted at hiding important objects and clues in plain sight, it may be possible to deduce what the unknown objects are by examining a second concept introduced during Harry’s investigation into Voldemort’s Horcruxes: the Tarot.
In the novels, and most recently in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling has repeatedly referred to the numbers four and seven as both pivotal and symbolic in the Harry Potter series. We have four founders and the houses named for them, four elements that Jo has mentioned relate to the houses: “I wanted them to correspond roughly to the four elements. So Gryffindor is fire, Ravenclaw is air, Hufflepuff is earth, and Slytherin is water, hence the fact that their common room is under the lake. 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. But they remain fragmented, as we know.” 3
Why collect relics of each of the four founders? Like the strength behind the alliance of the Hogwarts Four, four of their items together are certainly more powerful as a set than apart. Integral to Tom Riddle’s goal of immortality, these objects from the founders strengthen the prestige and powers of his set of six Horcruxes. By choosing relics with a magical history, Voldemort is creating a triple threat: each object has intrinsic powers gained by the item’s close relation with a powerful individual. Those powers add to Voldemort’s own formidable protection of each Horcrux which is further magnified by the connection to the objects of the Master Magician Hermes pictured in the Tarot. Hepzibah Smith mentions in passing to Tom Riddle that Hufflepuff’s cup had “all sorts of powers… too, but I haven’t tested them thoroughly …” 4 Dumbledore later tells Harry that Voldemort on a personal level “felt a great pull towards the school and that he could not resist an object so steeped in Hogwarts history.” 5 Tom Riddle indeed felt his tie as the heir of Slytherin, “I in whose veins runs the blood of Salazar Slytherin himself, through my mothers side,” 6 made him feel like a kind of royalty, referring to Slytherin’s work as “noble.” 7 Indeed, as Dumbledore noted, “Four objects from the four founders would, I am sure, have exerted a powerful pull over Voldemort’s imagination.” 8
From Dumbledore's conversations with Harry we can identify three of the four founders’ relics. Hufflepuff’s cup, stolen by Tom Riddle from Hepzibah Smith, was described as “a small golden cup with two finely wrought handles” and emblazoned with a badger,9 while Slytherin’s locket, owned by the Gaunt family and then sold by Merope, was a “heavy golden locket” marked with an “ornate, serpentine S.” 10 Dumbledore also identifies the only relic of Gryffindor's, the ruby encrusted sword that Harry pulled out of the Sorting Hat in his battle with the Basilisk, as safe.11 This leaves only one founder and her accompanying relic to be accounted for: Rowena Ravenclaw.
Now returning to Rowling’s assertion that that the four founders and their houses are indeed intended to represent four elements that make a stronger whole, we could apply this assertion to the three objects at hand. But where to identify a pattern of four magical objects that apply to the previously mentioned relics: a cup, a locket, and a sword? Perhaps this pattern can emerge from one magical divination tradition that appears for the first time in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, cartomancy.
Cartomancy is essentially fortune-telling using playing cards, and can be traced back to the first cards printed the middle ages in Italy. The first decks of painted playing cards, The Charles I Pack, and the other called Visconti-Sforza Pack, both appeared in the second half of the fifteenth century.12 The most famous version of these cards is the Rider Waite Tarot, which was produced in the twentieth century. The traditional Tarot deck totals 78 cards, 56 cards in the Minor Arcana and 22 cards in the Major Arcana. In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Professor Trelawney is found mulling over the meaning of several Minor Arcana cards when Harry encounters her on his way to meet Dumbledore. “ ‘Two of spades: conflict,’ she murmured, as she passed the place where Harry crouched, hidden. ‘Seven of spades: an ill omen. Ten of spades: violence. Knave of spades: a dark young man, possibly troubled, one who dislikes the questioner --’ ” 13 Although Trelawney is using what Harry describes as “dirty looking playing cards” and Trelawney refers to the modern suits (spades) we can be assured that she is indeed reading Tarot by her later reference to the Tower card “ ‘Again and again, no matter how I lay them out-...-the lightning-struck tower,’ she whispered. ‘Calamity. Disaster. Coming nearer all the time...’ ” 14 The Lightning-Struck Tower, more commonly known simply as The Tower, is one of the foremost cards in the Major Arcana and does not appear in our conventional 52 card deck. The tower symbolizes calamity and the uncovering of a deeply rooted secret, mirroring the events that transpire in its namesake chapter such as Draco’s mission and Snape’s betrayal and murder of Dumbledore. The placement of the reader’s encounter with Trelawney and her cards, which occurs directly before Harry's lessons with Dumbledore, may indeed suggest a connection between the cards and the relics in question.
One other Major Arcana card not mentioned in the novel, but which may give us an insight to a possible pattern to the relics, is the Magician Card in the Major Arcana. The card pictures four objects on a table being wielded by a master magician (the god Hermes or Mercury). The four objects on the table represent the four tools over which the master magician maintains complete control and the power that comes from perfectly manipulating the four magical objects, an image reminiscent of the goals of both the four founders and indeed of Voldemort. Pictured above the head of the magician is the symbol for infinity, the primary goal of Voldemort’s Horcruxes and his dark quest for immortality. The four objects in front of the Magician represent the four suits found in the Minor Arcana that we know today as Hearts, Spades, Clubs and Diamonds. They are Cups (Hearts), Swords (Spades), Pentacles/Discs (Diamonds), and Wands or Rods (Clubs).
Figure 1: Tarot card images: I The Magician, XVI The Tower, Knight Of Swords, X Of Swords, VII Of Swords, II Of Swords.15
If we follow the logic that the relics of the four founders follow the same pattern as the four Tarot suits, it gives us Helga Hufflepuff’s Cup, Godric Gryffindor’s Sword, and Salazar Slytherin’s Locket. This leaves Rowena Ravenclaw’s Wand, a logical symbol for the founder of Ravenclaw, “Where those of wit and learning / Will always find their kind.” 16 Why a wand? Wands seem to be one of the tools in the wizarding world that are inherently magical, being made of charmed wood with the core of the most powerful magical animals. Harry describes Ollivander’s wand shop as a place that tingled with secret magic. Wands have a natural affinity to a specific person “…(I)t’s really the wand that chooses the wizard of course.” 17 Not only would a wand owned by any of the four founders be a priceless treasure, but also a wand that had an affinity to the most intelligent of the four founders must have been a powerful item indeed. J.K. Rowling details just how important wands are in the question and answer session during an “Evening With Harry Carrie and Garp” in August 2006:
“I’ve been asked what would happen if a Muggle picked up a magic wand in my world. And the answer would probably be something accidental ... possibly quite violent. Because a wand, in my world, is merely a vehicle -- a vessel for what lies inside the person.
"There’s a very close relationship – as you know – between the wand that each wizard uses and themselves. In fact, we’ll find out more about that in Book 7. You need the ability to make these things work properly.” 18
So, which wand? J.K. Rowling says in her interview with The Leaky Cauldron and Mugglenet just after the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince that, “I'm prepared to bet you now, that at least before the week is out, at least one of the Horcruxes will have been correctly identified by careful re-readers of the books.” 19 Although presumably this is more likely a reference to the locket’s final resting place in Number Twelve Grimmauld Place, it does highlight Jo’s talent for hiding important clues in plain sight. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry describes several seemingly random objects in Borgin and Burkes that are important to the events in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: the Vanishing Cabinet, the opal necklace, and Draco’s Hand of Glory. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry notices in Ollivander’s shop “A single wand lay on a faded purple cushion in the dusty window.” 20 However, at Harry’s birthday dinner in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince we learn that Ollivander is missing, his “Shop’s empty. No sign of a struggle. No one knows whether he left voluntarily or was kidnapped” 21 Was the wand maker’s disappearance related to Voldemort reclaiming Ravenclaw's wand which was hiding in plain sight in Ollivander’s shop? First, we should ascertain if Ollivander’s wand shop could have made the wand that Rowena Ravenclaw owned. In a word, yes. Ollivander’s sign states it was established in 382 BC22 and Professor Binns informs the class in History of Magic that Hogwarts was founded “over a thousand years ago - the precise date is uncertain” 23 which puts Ollivander’s in operation for almost a thousand years before the birth of any of the four founders. With Ollivander’s reputation as the finest wand maker in Britain, it is unlikely any of the founders would have gone anywhere else.
However, this thesis of four founders and four items corresponding neatly to the Tarot suits is imperfect. In J.K. Rowling’s interview with The Leaky Cauldron and Mugglenet, she explains her elemental associations with the four houses: “I wanted them to correspond roughly to the four elements. So Gryffindor is fire, Ravenclaw is air, Hufflepuff is earth, and Slytherin is water, hence the fact that their common room is under the lake.” This however does not correspond to the traditional elemental associations of the four Tarot suits, in which traditionally Wands represent Fire (occasionally Air), Swords represent Air (occasionally fire), Cups represent Water, and Pentacles, Earth. How can we account for this disparity? Jo uses traditional myth to suit her story, playing on mythology and tradition in the context of having parallel worlds, where things that Muggles see as fantasy and magic are actually history of the wizarding world that have crept into the general population’s psyche. It's a way of establishing familiarity and acknowledging the parallel traditions that exist in historical and current forms of magic.
Rowling’s use of myth and symbols is shorthand in many ways, allowing her to pick and choose patterns and symbols without being tied exclusively to one school of thought. An example is the magical animals in Harry’s world that Jo explained in her recent appearance on the Richard and Judy show: “Well, some of the animals I make up, like the Blast-ended Skrewts are mine, but many of them exist in folklore and mythology and I’ve twisted them a bit to suit my own end. Hippogriffs: there’s not a lot if you go looking; I just created my own... you know.” 24
Harry’s hunt for the remaining Horcruxes will indeed be the focus of the final chapter of the seven book series. According to Harry, “the diary’s gone, the ring’s gone. The cup, the locket and the snake are still intact and you think there might be a Horcrux that was once Ravenclaw’s or Gryffindor’s?” 25 These words demonstrate the difficulty of Harry’s task in Book Seven. It is not only random objects that Harry needs to find and destroy, but also the most powerful of magical relics. These items that not only contain a fragment of Voldemort’s soul and are surrounded by Voldemort’s best protections, but are objects that are intrinsically powerful as they carry traces of the awesome magic wielded by the Hogwarts Four. Yet are the identities of the remaining Horcruxes as hidden as one might think? Not if we, like Trelawney, look to the Tarot.
The known relics of the Four Founders follow an intriguing pattern when one looks at the four suits of the Tarot, a form of divination that makes its first appearance in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and accurately predicts the death of Dumbledore on the top of the Astronomy tower. Using the tools found in the Magician card we can ascertain the identities of the relics in question as Gryffindor’s Sword, Hufflepuff’s cup, and Slytherin's locket that closely follow the suits Swords, Cups and Pentacles of the Tarot. What remains is the Wand suit that points the reader – and Harry – to search for missing wandmaker Ollivander and come to the conclusion that that wand in the window is indeed a most priceless relic – and not just a mouth organ.
1. The New Catholic Dictionary, 1910, s.v. "Relics."
2. Rowling, Half-Blood Prince, 471.
3. Ibid., TLC/MN Interview JKR: Part Three, paragraph 146.
4. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 408.
5. Ibid., 412.
6. Ibid., Chamber of Secrets, 335.
7. Ibid., 337.
8. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 472.
9. Ibid., 408.
10. Ibid., 409.
11. Ibid., 472.
12. Sharman-Burke and Greene, The Mythic Tarot, 7.
13. Rowling, Half-Blood Prince, 185.
14. Ibid., 507.
15. Waite and Smith, The Rider Waite Tarot: The Magician.
16. Rowling, Philosopher's Stone. 88.
17. Ibid., 63.
18. Ibid., "An Evening with Harry, Carrie and Garp," paragraph 58.
19. Ibid., TLC/MN Interview JKR: Part Three, paragraph 188.
20. Ibid., Philosopher's Stone, 63.
21. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 104.
22. Ibid., Philosopher's Stone, 63.
23. Ibid., Chamber of Secrets, 164.
24. Ibid., "Richard and Judy Show," Part 2, paragraph 121.
25. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 474.
The New Catholic Dictionary, 1910. The Catholic Community Forum. http://www.catholic-forum.com/SAINTS/ncd07032.htm. (Accessed August 30, 2006.)
Rowling, J.K. "An Evening with Harry, Carrie and Garp." Radio City Music Hall, August 1, 2006. Transcript, AccioQuote!. Member of the Floo Network. http://www.accio-quote.org/articles/2006/0801-radiocityreading1.html.
———. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. London: Bloomsbury Press, 2000.
———. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. London: Bloomsbury Press, 2005.
———. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Vancouver: Raincoast Books, 2000.
———. Interview with Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan, Richard and Judy, Channel 4 (UK), June 26, 2006. Transcript, AccioQuote!. Member of the Floo Network. http://www.accio-quote.org/articles/2006/0626-ch4-richardandjudy.html.
———. The Leaky Cauldron and MuggleNet interview J.K. Kathleen Rowling: Part Three. Interview with Melissa Anelli and Emerson Spartz. The Leaky Cauldron. Member of the Floo Network. July 16, 2005. /features/interviews/jkr3.
Sharman-Burke, Juliet and Liz Greene. The Mythic Tarot: A new approach to Tarot cards. Toronto: Fireside, 2000.
Waite, Arthur Edward and Pamela Coleman Smith. The Rider Waite Tarot: The Magician. Stamford, CT: U.S. Games Systems, Inc., Cards Edition, 1971.