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Harry Potter and WitchcraftHarry Potter and Witchcraft

JK Rowling's Harry Potter series, analysis, interpretation and religious reactions: do the books teach children how to become witches, do they lead the young into the occult, and just how do you make a Horcrux?

How To Make A Horcrux

The Theory and Practice of the External Soul
by Dr Leo Ruickbie

(Paranormal, 55, January 2011, pp. 20-4)

How To Make A HorcruxThe young witch opened Magick Moste Eville and read out loud: ‘Of the Horcrux, wickedest of magical inventions, we shall not speak nor give direction.’1 In the whole library, including the restricted section, of Hogwarts’ School of Witchcraft and Wizardry that was all Hermione Granger, the brightest witch of her generation, could find on the subject of Horcruxes. She slammed the book shut in exasperation, causing it to let out a long-suffering groan. ‘It is,’ said JK Rowling in a 2007 interview for The-Leaky-Cauldron.org, ‘too horrible to go into detail about.’2

It took a trembling Professor Slughorn to reveal what little we know. ‘A Horcrux,’ he explained to an over-eager young student called Tom Riddle, ‘is the word used for an object in which a person has concealed part of their soul.’3 In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Rowling told us that it involved murder, but when she explained the full process of creating a Horcrux to her editor ‘she looked as though she was going to vomit’.4 The Horcrux is a gruesome mystery at the heart of the later Harry Potter books and Rowling has yet to tell all. But for those with stronger stomachs we will go where Magick Moste Eville fears to tread and reveal the secrets of spirit capture and containment.

How To Make A HorcruxIf we take the word ‘Horcrux’ apart we find the French word hors, ‘outside, out of, off’, and crux, used in English to mean ‘difficult matter, puzzle, crucial point, essence’, from the Latin for ‘cross’, probably in the sense of the phrase crux interpretum, ‘torment of interpreters’. Rather than let it torment us too much, ‘outside essence’ would seem to be the best fit. When Rowling came up with the word, a search on Google returned zero matches – there are many thousands now – but she had not invented the concept behind it. The theme was already familiar in literature through JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. When Sauron forges the One Ring, part of himself is bound up with it, allowing him to survive the physical death of his body. The destruction of the ring is the only way to finally and irrevocably defeat him. However, it is not simply a literary theme. In folklore, custom and magic there is a long tradition of what the great anthropologist Sir James George Frazer called ‘the external soul’.

The spirit or soul, the animating, personalising ‘thing’ that drives and defines the human being always seemed like a thing apart, a ‘ghost in the machine’. When we sleep, where does it go? When we die, where does it go? Traditionally, the shaman had the power to send forth his soul at will and to conjure the souls of others out of their bodies. The Siberian Yakuts, for example, say that every shaman puts his soul (or one of his souls) in an animal and hides it away. The weakest must take dogs, the strongest may choose the stallion, elk, black bear, wildboar, or eagle. Here, and in similar accounts from the Americas, Africa and Australia, we have the origin of the witch’s familiar.

How To Make A HorcruxThe Yakut shaman Tyusypyut boasted that ‘nobody can find my ie-kyla [external soul], it lies hidden far away in the stony mountains of Edzhigansk’.5 Many folktales preserve this idea. The Indian magician Punchkin kept his soul in a parrot in a cage buried under six water containers piled one on top of the other in a circle of palm trees in a jungle far, far away. And in case anyone should find it, the spot was guarded by thousands of demons who would kill all who approached, as we read in Mary Frere’s Old Deccan Days of 1868. ‘Far, far away in a lake,’ explained the ‘the giant who had no heart in his body’ in George Webbe Dasent’s Popular Tales from the Norse of 1859, ‘lies an island, on that island stands a church, in that church is a well, in that well swims a duck, in that duck there is an egg, and in that egg there lies my heart.’ Koshchei the Deathless, as we read in William Ralston Shedden Ralston’s Russian Folk-Tales of 1873, said much the same: ‘There stands an oak, and under the oak is a casket, and in the casket is a hare, and in the hare is a duck, and in the duck is an egg, and in the egg is my death.’

Needless to say, the hero in these tales, like Harry Potter, manages to overcome the obstacles and lay his hands on the magician’s or monster’s soul and, with the typical bloodthirstiness of the old fairy-tales, proceeds to rip it apart or crush it in front of the villain. But the shaman could also extract the soul for beneficial ends and make a positive Horcrux.

How To Make A HorcruxFrazer found many examples of folk customs employing magical techniques of spirit externalisation and protection which he documented in The Golden Bough (various editions from 1890 to 1922). When a family moves into a new house, an event of spiritual peril on the island of Sulawesi, the witchdoctor collects their souls in a bag to safeguard them, returning them when they are safely installed. Among the Dyaks of south-eastern Borneo, the witchdoctor preserves the soul of a newborn infant in half a coconut which he covers with a cloth and places on a small platform suspended from the rafters. The souls of the newly born are also temporarily kept in coconuts on the Kei Islands. In Alaska, the Eskimo medicine-man takes the soul of a sick child and places it in an amulet – a ‘soul-box’ – which he then further protects by stowing in his medicine-bag. The North American Haida shaman tempts the soul of an invalid into a hollow bone and keeps it safe until the body is well again.6 In 1995 the ethnologist Elizabeth McAlister reported that this form of magic was still practised in Haiti. Country people might put the nanm, ‘soul’, of their children in a bottle before sending them to school in Port-au-Prince to magically protect them.7 Birth, moving, illness – and, indeed, going to school – these were critical moments requiring additional magical security.

Various forms of black magic could also be used to attack the soul or spirit by forcing or luring it out of the body. As we read in Baldwin Spencer’s Native Tribes of the Northern Territory of Australia (1914), the Tjilaiyu ceremony of the Kakadu tribe aims at capturing a victim’s yalmuru, ‘spirit’, and causing him to thus come into harm’s way. In a move to make any editor feel queasy, the charm involves securing some of the victim’s excrement to lure the yalmuru into a fire pit. A Malay charm to steal someone’s soul, recounted in RO Winstedt’s Shaman, Saiva and Sufi (1925), involves taking sand or earth from the person’s footprint. In the third century BCE, Clearchus, a pupil of Aristotle’s, reported an incident in which a magician tapped a boy with his ‘soul-drawing wand’ (psychoulkos rhabdos) and drew out his soul for a time, leaving the body insensible to pain as if dead. However, as any good shaman will tell you, it is not just the souls of the living that can be captured.

Because this is a published article, we can only print part of it here. Read the rest in Leo Ruickbie, 'How To Make A Horcrux', Paranormal, 55, January 2011, pp. 20-4.

Cite this article as:
Leo Ruickbie, 'How To Make A Horcrux', Paranormal, 55, January 2011, pp. 20-4, http://www.witchology.com/contents/harrypotter/howtomakeahorcrux.php, accessed .


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