Anthropology goes to the movies

By Kenia Cris

First Nations Museum Anthropology

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows  movie 1,  first part of the seventh and final installment in the Harry Potter Series written by J.K. Rowling, was released last week in more than 50 countries. The story follows Harry Potter on a quest to find and destroy his archenemy Lord Voldemort’s secret to immortality – the Horcruxes.

The Horcruxes are introduced in Harry Potter and the half-blood prince and described as “receptacles in which a Dark wizard has hidden a part  or parts of his soul for the purpose of attaining immortality.” This wizard becomes immortal as long as the Horcrux remains intact. Nevertheless, it was in The Golden Bough, a comparative study of mythology and religion, written by the anthropologist Sir James George Frazer first published in 1890 that they were discussed for the first time. Frazer looks at, among other things, the ancient belief that the soul could be placed for either a long or a short period of time in some safe place outside the body. He observed it was an idea commonly found in different popular tales of many races. The planting of a tree at the birth of a child, still practiced in a few countries around the world, is directly connected with this belief.

According to Frazer, savages used to remove their souls from their bodies in various occasions of real or imaginary danger while heroes did the procedure as a preparation for battle, in order to make their bodies invulnerable and immortal.  These so-called “soul-boxes” were chosen among animals, plants and objects as well.

A popular representative tale of Frazer’s observations dates back to the middle of the eighteenth century. Asbjørnsen and Moe, NorseBrothers Grimm“, tell the tale of  The Giant Who Had No Heart in His Body – he had it hidden inside an egg which sat in a duck swam’s nest inside a church in a distant island. He would have lived long enough to tell his own story, if he hadn’t let it out to a princess he kept as a prisoner. The myth of Koschei the Deathless, from Slavic mythology tells the story of a man who kept his soul  hidden  inside a needle in an egg in a duck inside a hare which was in an iron chest buried under a green oak tree which sat on the island of Buyan in the ocean. There is also Punchkin, a magician in a popular Indian tale, who kept his soul inside a parrot he kept in a small cage which was in the sixth chattee in a pile in the center of a circle of palm trees in the middle of a thick jungle covering a desolate far far away country. Let’s not forget Dorian Gray, created by Oscar Wilde, whose soul inhabited a portrait of himself painted by an artist friend and was kept hidden in his attic.

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