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What Does the Mirror of Erised Say?

November 27, 2010

The themes dealt in the Harry Potter series are dark and serious. Though the plot turns and the magical machinery of the books fascinate children, there is a lot which is meaningful for adults. Rowling has been asked that whether the books are exclusively for children. She does not think of the books as exclusively for children. She wants her books to be those to which people return again and again. Like the books of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.

The darker themes of the books like death are sometimes more than a child can understand. It takes an adult to take in the deep feelings Rowling is talking about.

The theme of death is in all seven books. Rowling felt the death of her mother keenly, while writing the books and this made her depiction of loss and the longing for the dear ones more real.[1] This theme is present in the very first book. There is a special chapter discussing the theme, The Mirror of Erised.

The Mirror of Erised is a magical object which shows one the deepest desire of the heart. There is a message etched upon it, which does not make any sense. It makes sense if read backwards. The message is:

Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi[2]

Read backwards it means: I show not your face but your heart’s desire.

Harry chances upon it and sees his parents. Ron sees himself becoming a head boy. The chapter of the Mirror of Erised makes the book spiritually deep.

The Mirror is a trap in which people lose themselves. Dumbledore warns Harry of the danger.

“Now, can you think what the Mirror of Erised shows us all?”

Harry shook his head.

“Let me explain. The happiest man on earth would be able to use the Mirror of Erised like a normal mirror, that is, he would look into it and see himself exactly as he is. Does that help?”

Harry thought. Then he said slowly, “It shows us what we want . . . whatever we want . . .”

“Yes and no,” said Dumbledore quietly. “It shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts. You, who have never known your family, see them standing around you. Ronald Weasley, who has always been overshadowed by his brothers, sees himself standing alone, the best of all of them. However, this mirror will give us neither knowledge or truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible.[3]

The happiest man on earth would be able to use the Mirror of Erised as a normal mirror. In other words, the happiest man would be the one who has no desire left; the one who has become desire less.

This is the closest possible allegory to the Hindu concept of Maya. Hindu philosophy considers this world as Maya or illusion. Maya deludes us with its many offerings, and myriad possibilities. It entices a man to fulfill a desire which is often unattainable. Individuals run after a desire for whole of their lives, only to find at the end that they have wasted away their lives over a delusion. These desires range from the longing of a loved one, yearning for money, fame, power etc.[4]

In this way, the Mirror of Erised is a metaphor for Maya. One who can use the Mirror of Erised as a normal mirror has to be desire less.

According to Hindu spirituality, only a person who has gotten rid of all his desires can be happy in true terms. The process of doing this is called self-realization. Desire less he will not want to be this or that. Desire less he will be what he is. Hinduism celebrates the state of desirelessness. Apparently the same lesson as Dumbledore gives to Harry about the Mirror of Erised.[5]

Following is a quotation from the book of a self-realized saint of India, Bhagawan Sri Ramana Maharishi. It is the view of God, as taken by Hinduism:

Sri Ramana maintained that the universe is sustained by the power of the Self. Since theists normally attribute this power to God he often used the word God as a synonym for the Self. He also used the words Brahman, the supreme being of Hinduism, and Siva, a Hindu name for God, in the same way. Sri Ramana’s God is not a personal God, he is the formless being which sustains the universe. He is not the creator of the universe, the universe is merely a manifestation of his inherent power; he is inseparable from it, but he is not affected by its appearance or its disappearance.[6]

In his and in the Hindu view, the Self is a synonym for the God. It is a view radically different from the Judeo-Christian concept of God, in which the extra-terrestrial God is not only different from the self but so high and above that no man can ever experience Him except the chosen Prophet.

Later in the book, Bhagawan describes the state of self-realization. A questioner asks, what a man will see after self-realization:

“There is no seeing. Seeing is only being. The state of Self-realisation, as we call it, is not attaining something new or reaching some goal which is far away, but simply being that which you always are and which you always have been. All that is needed is that you give up your realisation of the not-true as true. All of us are regarding as real that which is not real. We have only to give up this practice on our part. Then we shall realise the Self as the Self; in other words, ‘Be the Self’. At one stage you will laugh at yourself for trying to discover the Self which is so self-evident. So, what can we say to this question? That stage transcends the seer and the seen. There is no seer there to see anything. The seer who is seeing all this now ceases to exist and the Self alone remains.”[7]

What is described as the state of the happiest man by Dumbledore is the state of self-realization in Hinduism.

Bhagawan Raman Maharishi says that if you live as you are, you will be free of every desire. Dumbledore says that if one is free of all desires he will be full of bliss. Thus, both state the same concept.

It shows that the worldview of Harry Potter is like that of Hinduism and is not conducive to the Judeo-Christian ideas.


[2] Rowling, J K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Scholastic Inc. 1997. P. 207.

[3] Ibid. p. 213.

[4] Abhisheki, Janaki. Religion as Knowledge. New Delhi: Voice of India. 1998. p. 43-67.

[5] Godman, David. Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi. London: Penguin non-Classics. 1986.

[6] Ibid. p. 10.

[7] Ibid. p. 12.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 24, 2015 7:41 PM

    superb article

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