Investigating the links between star-craft, the famous young wizard, and his creator, J.K. Rowling
Astrology has a new ally, none less than the world’s most celebrated teenager, Harry Potter. Not that Harry and his two school pals, Ron and Hermione, much care for star craft – in fact, they find their astrology homework among their more tedious chores at Hogwarts’ School of Wizardry – but they and their creator, J.K. Rowling, are ensuring that a new generation of readers is exposed to the notion that the planets have something to tell us. Or, as Harry’s dotty Divination teacher, Professor Trelawny, insists: ‘Human destiny may be deciphered by the planetary rays…’
Joanna Rowling is now Britain’s most successful author. Her seven Harry Potter books have sold several million copies, been translated into 24 languages, and have made Rowling Britain’s highest earning woman, with an income in excess of £20 million. The Potter films are no less succesful than the books Harry is, in short, a phenomenon of the age.
Given astrology’s long association with magic, it’s perhaps not suprising to find it on the Hogwarts syllabus, alongside herbs, charms, potions, astronomy, magical creatures and defence against the dark arts. Unlike real-life, hermetically inclined sorcerers like John Dee, Rowling’s wizards need no astrology to cast their spells and turn mice into snuffboxes, but it appears to be useful in the tricky art of divination. Among such distinguished children’s authors as John Masefield, J.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Ursula LeGuin (whose wonderful Earthsea trilogy also features a school for wizards), and Philip Pullman, Rowling alone includes astrology in her fantasy world (though Pullman’s alethiometer is essentially a horary astrology machine).
Rowling’s treatment of astrology is refreshingly accurate, and addresses a fundamental issue with which astrologists have always grappled; that of fate and freewill. In her first adventure, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, it is the astrologically learned centaurs of the Forbidden Forest who act out the conflicting viewpoints of this well-worn dichotomy. As Harry heads through the nocturnal gloom of the forest towards his first show-down with the dark lord Voldemort, two centaurs decline to help him, offering only the cryptic observation that ‘Mars is bright tonight’. Later they admonish a fellow centaur, Firenze, who springs to Harry’s aid, saying, ‘We are sworn not to set ourselves against the heavens. Have we not read what is to come in the movements of the planets?’
Firenze, however, is having none of this. He knows evil is astir (‘Or have the planets not let you in on that secret?’) and has decided to act. ‘The planets have been read wrongly, before now,’ he tells Harry. ‘I hope this is one of those times’. Happily for our hero, so it proves.
Rowling raises the issue of fate again in her third and fourth books, The Prisoner of Azkaban and The Goblet of Fire. By this time Harry has begun to learn divination with the delightfully cranky Professor Trelawney, a bangled and beaded doom-monger of a type familiar to all astrologers, whose misty fulminations over tea leaves and astro-charts send action-boy Harry to sleep. He, Ron and Hermione agree that her fortune-telling is ‘really no more than lucky guesswork and a spooky manner’.
Nonetheless, haughty Sybill Trelawney has a habit of delivering the right message, even if she doesn’t realise it. In Prisoner of Azkaban she obliviously ‘channels’ a warning to Harry while in a trance, while dismissing a premonition Harry himself gleans from his crystal ball (which proves accurate). In Goblet of Fire, warnings of danger come to Harry via astrology, which Trelawney teaches with the aid of a splendid magical astrolabe to illustrate such delights as ‘the fascinating angle Mars was making with Neptune’.
Rowling’s mischievous humour gets full reign on Trelawney and her declarations on ‘the movements of the planets and the mysterious portents they reveal to those who understand the steps of the celestial dance’. A perennial pessimist, Trelawney tells Harry, a slightly built orphan, that he was ‘born under the baleful influence of Saturn…your dark hair, your mean stature, tragic losses so young in life – I think I am right in saying that you were born in mid winter’. A deadpan Harry replies that he was born in July.
For their astrological homework Professor Trelawney asks her students to forecast what will happen to them on the basis of their birth charts’ transits. After struggling with the ephemeris, Harry and Ron simply write the worst things they can think of. Ron decides he will lose a treasured possession ‘because of Mercury’, Harry that he will get stabbed in the back by someone he thought was a friend ‘because Venus is in the twelfth house’. Their teacher is delighted with their gloomy predictions, both of which, ironically enough, come true.
Clearly, either Joanna Rowling is something of a closet astrologer or has done homework with someone who knows their quintiles from their sesquiquadrates. Rowling certainly attaches great importance to birthdays. Indeed, from what she discloses in The Philosopher’s Stone it is possible to ascertain Harry’s Sun sign. His offer of a place at Hogwarts specifies that he must accept no later than the 31st July, a deadline he only meets after Hagrid, Hogwarts’ emissary, intervenes on the eve of Harry’s eleventh birthday. Harry is therefore born on the 31st July, making him a Leo.
This, it transpires, is the birthday of Rowling herself, who was born in 1965. In the absence of any birth time, her birth chart (Fig One) is cast using solar houses. With five planets in Virgo, including an exalted Mercury (which was at station the next day) conjunct Venus, this is an apt horoscope for a gifted writer. Usually described as the sign of the critic, Virgo is also the sign of the lexicographer (Samuel Johnson was a Virgo Sun), and Rowling has spoken of her habit of ‘collecting words’. Hogwarts’ headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, for example, is named after a middle English term for a bumble bee, while terms such as ‘quidditch’ (wizard’s polo, played on broomsticks) and ‘muggles’ (non-wizards) were freshly minted.
Since becoming a celebrity, Rowling has been sensibly reticent about her life, so one can only speculate about the implications of that powerful triangle of Moon-Saturn-Jupiter in her birth chart, but Harry’s comically wretched home life with his foster parents, the Dursleys, certainly chimes with her Moon-Saturn opposition, an aspect summed up by Sue Tompkins as ‘Bleak House’. That Rowling’s Moon is also conjunct Pluto and Uranus and sextile Neptune (and therefore in aspect to the five furthest planets) speaks of someone whose experiences with motherhood run deep.
Until the publication of her first book, Rowling led a busy but modest life, going from reading classics at Exeter university to work for Amnesty, before relocating to Portugal to teach English in the early 1990s, where she married, had a daughter, and worked on the Potter books, which she always conceived of as a sequence of seven; one for each year of Harry’s school years. Her Saturn return, in 1995, coincided with the break-up of her marriage and her return to Britain.
Given the huge change in her circumstances presaged by her first book – official publication date 26th June, 1997 – one might hope for a more spectacular set of transits than are provided by this date, although an accurate birth time might, of course, show some major movement over the angles of her birth chart. Through most of 1997, however, Uranus – a planet personified by Gustav Holst as ‘The Magician’ – lay opposite Rowling’s natal Sun, and was in conjunction with Jupiter there around the time Rowling must have finalised the manuscript for Philosopher’s Stone, early in the year. The total solar eclipse of March 8th, 1997, also fell opposite that much aspected natal Moon. This was the period that Rowling has spoken of as the ‘the realisation of my life’s ambition – nothing since has matched the moment when I realised ‘Harry’ was going to be published’.
What of the horoscope of Harry himself? With his noble lineage (his parents were both eminent wizards), his generosity, his loyalty to friends, not to mention the fierce displays of pride which grow more marked with each book, Harry fits his Leo Sun sign well enough. It is intriguing to note that Harry’s female sidekick, the punctilious, hard-working, rule-obeying Hermione, has her birthday in September – perhaps while Harry embodies Rowling’s heroic Leo Sun, Hermione reflects her goody two shoes Virgo Moon. Rowling has admitted that Hermione is ‘something of a caricature of me at 11′.
Two possible horoscopes for Harry have already been suggested by US astrologer Barbara Schermer on her web site, derived from an ingenious reading of the first book. This specifies that Harry’s eleventh birthday fell on a Tuesday. Since Harry came into being as an eleven year old in the early 1990s, when Rowling began her books, Schermer argues he was ‘born’ some eleven years previously. Furthermore, ‘there are only two July 31st dates that fall on a Tuesday in the time span we are considering – in 1979 or 1984,’ points out Schermer, before excitedly delineating the two resulting charts for 31st July, 1979 and 1984, both set for Harry’s given birth place of ‘Little Whinging, Surrey’.
However, we are told not that Harry was born on a Tuesday but that his eleventh birthday fell on one. July 31st fell on a Tuesday in only two years in the 1990s; 1990 itself and 1997. That it took Rowling ‘five years’ to write her first book rules out the first, leaving only 1997, making Harry Potter’s date of birth 31.7.86. This date has the merit of meshing with the publication, in June 1997, of The Philosopher’s Stone, where we join Harry at the end of his tenth year.
Harry’s chart is a loose fit for someone as extraordinary as him, however. True, the ‘baleful influence of Saturn’ opposes his Moon, just as in Rowling’s horoscope, and the square between Sun and Pluto reflects both Harry’s intensity and the battle between his light (Sun) and Voldemort’s darkness (Pluto). One might also call upon the t-square of Jupiter, Uranus and Venus to describe his magical skills. Yet of his derring -do and flying skills aboard a broomstick, there is little sign (Mars, while exalted, is unaspected).
Charts for fictitious characters, however, can be no more than wit-sharpening games; those interested in playing should consult Joan Revill’s enjoyable Sun Sign Reader (Flare Publications) for insights into the birthdays of Sherlock Holmes, Bridget Jones and others. When I researched how writers have used astrology in their writing (See True As the Stars Above for the interest of Ted, Hughes, W.B. Yeats, Louis Macneice and others) I found only one major novelist who had drawn directly on astrology – Margaret Murray, who based the characters in Gone With The Wind on the zodiac; Scarlett O’Hara as Aries, her farm-owning father as Taurus and so on. The President’s Astrologer, a political thriller by US astrologer Barbara Shafferman, includes the birth charts of its two principal characters.
It’s improbable that Joanna Rowling has ever drawn up a chart for Harry, but an interest in astrology may have played into her books in other ways than those outlined above. The ceiling of the Great Hall at Hogwarts, after all, is bewitched to mimic the night sky. And is it mere projection that sees the four ‘houses’ of Hogwarts school – to which all students are allotted on arrival by the ‘sorting hat’ – as reflections of the four cardinal signs? ‘Bold Gryffindor’ sounds suspiciously like Aries, ‘Fair Ravenclaw’ like Libra, `Sweet Hufflepuff’ like Cancer, and ‘Power hungry Slytherin’ like Capricorn. It’s good to know that in fiction, as in life, earth, water, fire and air remain the stuff of magic.
This article originally appeared in The Astrological Journal