With the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone falling early last week, many people are taking stock of the influence this series has had on their life.
Over time, certain books strike so much resonance with a generation of readers, their influence is almost immeasurable. While there are many reasons these well-crafted characters captured our hearts, I believe a central reason is because they feed on our desire to believe in a magical world no matter how mundane, confusing, or painful our upbringing may have been.
I started reading the books when I was 10 and diligently went to every release party to get my hands on the next one. Even though they connected strongly with my youthful mind, their magic did not lessen as the years went on. It remains an annual ritual to re-read the entire series. And it shocks me each time when there are still things that the books show me about myself, the world I live in, and the world I want to create.
This year’s revelation was the fact that I am a Slytherin.
Despite loving the books, I had never taken the famous Pottermore test to see which house I belonged to. Anytime I thought about it, I saw myself as a little bit of each. I had my adorably goofball Hufflepuff moments, and could display the occasional feat of bravery or wit that might have found me among the Gryffindors or Ravenclaws. Basically, I could be comfortable in any house but Slytherin (naturally, because they were the bad guys).
But then I started doing shadow work in my spiritual journey. This work included loosening up my dualistic thinking. Things were no longer “good” or “bad” but existed on a spectrum of experience. When utilized properly, all experiences could contribute to self-growth in a holistic way. Part of shadow work also meant facing the parts of yourself that are hard to accept, and learning to wrap them in unconditional love and compassion. It was through this process that my Slytherin heritage emerged.
During my last re-read of the book, I had a light-bulb moment:
I was ambitious—I worked my tail off in school to make sure I was top of the class, while also running clubs, being vice president, and regularly hosting social events.
I was proud—I always made sure to appreciate all the accomplishments I had achieved, even when they were as small as being up before noon.
I was cunning—I once snuck into a class I wasn’t registered for and left with my first A+.
And I had a keen sense of self-preservation—I had easily left my home town to venture alone to the big city to make sure I was being nourished and influenced by the right people.
At first, I fought this realization.
I wasn’t a Slytherin, no way! And why did it matter anyway? I told myself this was just a book…but if I was being honest with myself, I knew it wasn’t. These stories had always acted as a special tool for me. And it wasn’t just some online test that was telling me this—it was my deepest intuition. The more I looked at my life, the more nudges my intuition gave me; my favourite animal had always been a snake, and green was in fact my power colour.
But what did this information mean for me? How was I supposed to relate this information from a make-believe world into my everyday inner-city life? The answer came to me from the one character who best embodied the blurred boundaries between good and bad: Severus Snape.
Snape was a potions master. Maybe I could be one too. I was taking the summer off and I took my newly designated “potions class” very seriously. I started documenting everything I was putting into my body each day. I used this as a method for understanding what potions I would need to learn how to make. Then I realized a potions master must have excellent ingredients. I researched local food markets, sustainable meat sources, and went on plant walks to discover the healing and nutritional value of the plants around me.
Months later, when I could intuitively concoct a healthy brew that was both delicious and nutritious, I graduated to the next level. My obsession with potions made me realize that everything that went in or around my body needed to be magical. I am currently in the process of uncovering all the wonderful spells that result in homemade toothpastes, deodorants, cleaning supplies, perfumes, and make up.
For all my fellow Slytherins out there, and for anyone embracing their shadow side as an equally important companion, I applaud you! There is magic to be found no matter what path we have chosen, and lessons to be learned no matter what challenges we face.
In our culture, it is easy to make assumptions about who the “good guys” and the “bad guys” are, but we often make these judgments without understanding how each player contributes to the larger game. Without bludgers, we’d never learn to be strong. And without pesky snitches, how would we find our speed?
J.K. Rowling has inspired millions to invest in a world of magic, and with a little practice, we can learn to bring this magic into our own worlds. So whether you’re a sly Slytherin or gallant Gryffindor, I wish you all the best on your journey. And if you’re in the neighborhood, I hope you’ll stop in for a potion or two.
Author: Polly Orr
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron
Social Editor: Yoli Ramazzina