Don't Hide Your Spiders in the Dark! Meaning, Magic, and Metaphor for the Scarred and Seeking

We just finished The Chamber of Secrets, and as per usual, Rowling’s brilliance astounds.

Major takeaways that I’ll briefly unpack in what I promise to be a shorter entry than the last.

1) Buried shame is dangerous and damaging, and the ashamed in question is often unavoidably blind to the danger their shame poses for - and the damage it inflicts upon – the people around them.

2) The truly heroic seeker will, inevitably, make those around them uncomfortable; they pose dangerous questions and entertain potentially troubling answers, AND are often blessed and cursed with a certain obliviousness, and lack of concern, as to how their behavior might be landing in other people’s perceptions.

3) Trauma scars, imprints, and imbues the victim with the powers of their abuser. It is imperative that one not bury those powers but bring them to the fore and develop their own competence in wielding them, no matter how frightening their potential might seem.

SPOILERS AHEAD. Tread lightly.

1) Buried shame is dangerous and damaging, and the ashamed in question is often unavoidably blind to the danger their shame poses for - and the damage it inflicts upon – the people around them.

Diary dependent Tom Riddle shows Harry a memory in which he (Riddle) confronts the then-teenage, student-at-Hogwarts Hagrid about something he's been hiding in what looks to be a secretive cupboard of sorts. Whatever Hagrid’s hiding in there, it's not fun and games. It is a secret the likes of which Hagrid would almost certainly beg and plead with Riddle not to reveal to the public. Riddle waves his wand and pops the top off the box holding Hagrid’s secret, and out alights Aragog, scurrying the through the halls in all of his eight legged frenzy, off – we are to assume – to the forbidden forest, where he has – in real time, outside of Riddle’s diary-dream – resided for the past fifty years and where he has remained a secret of Hagrid’s, fed and and kept safe in the dark, shrouded and away from prying, potentially judgmental eyes.

An interesting, but ultimately irrelevant side note for this line of inquiry: spiders are (Jungian experts, please correct/amend this as per your inklings) thought to be symbolic of numerous psychic aspects. One being that of “the ancient feminine, mothers, and the mother complex;” ( certainly an interesting thought as pertaining to what Hagrid might be hiding from the world, symbolically. Another bit of potential spider symbolism:

“…a weaver of the web who has always encouraged cosmogonic fantasies, especially as the web is made in the form of a mandala, with its creator sitting at the center. The spider's life of weaving and killing, creating and destroying, is an allegory of the opposing forces on which the existence of the cosmos depends...a creature of fate, weaving the thread of destiny on which it hangs.” (Anthony Stevens)

The idea of the ancient feminine, and the mother complex, feels – intuitively to me, at least – like a more relevant consideration when it comes to one’s curiosity about Hagrid. However, apt interpretation or not, it is – to reiterate – ultimately irrelevant to the point I am attempting to make. Back to the topic at hand: the dangerous potential of buried shame –

Aragog, regardless of how much symbolic significance we might grant him, is certainly a literal, concrete source of shame for teenage Hagrid and – as such things tend to do – has grown into a more inescapable source of shame and secrecy for Hagrid fifty years down the line. It is curious that Hagrid advises Harry and Ron to follow the spiders in their search for answers and it seems unlikely that Rowling’s choice here is an arbitrary one. On the one hand, it is worth noting that one of Hagrid’s great strengths – his ability to see that which is lovable in creatures that others might see only as monsters – is also his great weakness: he sees only the good and repeatedly fails to recognize and appreciate the very real dangers that some of his favorite furry friends pose to the world at large. However, I think that’s too simple an understanding of Hagrid’s instruction to “follow the spiders.” In various other instances throughout the series Hagrid pleads with various authorities to give various misunderstood creatures a chance – obviously symbolic of his wish that the world give a harmless and misunderstood oaf like himself a chance. His urging Harry and Ron, however, to follow the spiders feels somehow different to me and my instinct here, I believe, is supported by the final moment of the film, in which Hagrid returns to the tribe, to be publicly celebrated, exonerated of all charges, which I believe is properly interpreted symbolically and exclusively symbolically – I’ll return to this in a moment. Instructing Harry and Ron to wander into the forest alone is more blatantly ignorant and blindly reckless than anything else Hagrid does throughout the story series and, I believe, is indicative of something more profound than simply being blinded by his love for the misunderstood spiders. There’s no one closer to Hagrid than Harry and Ron and I sense that this instruction of Hagrid's to be two-fold in its profundity. First, I believe it to be indicative of a deeper yearning of Hagrid's: for his shame to be known; for it to be seen, felt, and - ultimately - accepted. As is often the case with matters of vital spiritual importance, it is not enough to tell someone about your stuff, they need to get it for a true communication to have taken place. He does want Harry to know he has a secret, but - as Aragog himself makes clear - it's a secret Hagrid wouldn't dare endanger the students with. Harry escapes the forest shook, but with the correct conclusion clear in his mind: Hagrid isn't the evil. Second, I believe it to be uniquely representative of Hagrid’s ignorance as to how dangerous the anger, hurt, and embarrassment he’s hidden in the forest have grown. Regardless of how much he might want those closest to him to know his wounds, he wouldn't send Ron and Harry into Aragog's lair knowing what danger truly awaited. I believe Rowling wants us to bear witness to both Hagrid's yearning to be seen as well as his ignorance of the true dangers of his wounds.

Watching the film today I was reminded how strange the final moment of the film has always felt to me. It’s almost awkwardly sentimental how celebratory the students become upon Hagrid’s return. Harry’s line, “Hogwarts wouldn’t be the same without you, Hagrid” is delivered with such deliberate care, and so much time is taken for Hagrid’s reintegration into the group that you’d think the whole thing was Hagrid's story. To be fair, Hagrid’s arc is the last to have its loose ends tied up, but why would the storytellers give this moment so much attention if it weren’t to be understood as the deeply symbolic healing I am suggesting? If Hagrid’s reentry wasn’t to be understood as a far deeper symbolic reintegration that simply having one’s criminal charges dropped, in the most literal sense? In the spider scene itself, after having escaped the forest, Aragog and all of his kinfolk included, Ron’s reaction is one of incredulity: “what was the point of sending us in there?!” Harry on the other hand, as befitting the redemptive savior he's becoming, sees only the good after his encounter with Hagrid’s, of all people’s, worst: “Hagrid is innocent.” Harry has seen Hagrid’s darkest secret and remains the accepting friend Hagrid needs, in spite of the very real danger that Hagrid’s repressed aspect poses. And perhaps we are to understand that after having had his darkest secret witnessed, fully acknowledged, and accepted by his closest companion, Harry, Hagrid has actually been set free from this particular shame, and that the final moment in the film is to be understood as Harry’s benevolent and unconditional reproach of any worldly rejection of Hagrid – deepest, darkest shames and all.

This also, sort of, leads me to my next point: that the heroic seeker, inevitably, not only stumbles upon the world’s darkness, but that he is comfortable with it, and further - that he is not only comfortable with confronting it, but comfortable identifying with it.

2) The truly heroic seeker will, inevitably, make those around them uncomfortable; they pose dangerous questions and entertain potentially troubling answers, AND are often blessed and cursed with a certain obliviousness, and lack of concern, as to how their behavior might be landing in other people’s perceptions.

A couple images stood out to me, after watching the first two films in the series. One from the first film: Harry, on his broom in the match against Slytherin, even after his seeker opponent has bailed from their ground-bound nosedive after the snitch, Harry stays committed and has to pull sharply up to avoid face planting into the pitch. And even after refusing to retreat from the all-but-certain disaster of the chase that all others would surely recognize as foolhardy (indeed, the risky chase that the snitch requires of its heroic champion), he goes so far as to walk his way out onto the tip of his broomstick reaching for the prize. He is defying the logic that constrains those around him and, in return, is rewarded by that ultimate arbiter of heroic worthiness, the snitch. A second image – during his not entirely mock duel with Malfoy in front of the entire student body, Harry speaking parsel tongue. Harry has been touched by the darkness that snakes represent and, thus, has a direct link to it. In order to save his classmate he unknowingly taps into it and reveals – again, unknowingly – his own capacity for that unspeakable darkness, and does so in front of all of his peers. Even Snape is unsettled by this revelation.

If I were to make a sort of composite insight about the significance of these two images – a relatively arbitrarily-arrived-at composite, I grant you – the line of meaning might follow, roughly along the following lines: The snitch could be said to represent anything worth seeking. Harry, as evidenced by his unparalleled commitment to the pursuit on the quidditch pitch, is clearly the type to voluntarily incur greater risk than others in the interests of his seeking(s). Harry is so blinded by his desperately sought after ambitions (ambition need not be the dirty word I’m afraid some of you will interpret) that he doesn’t recognize the fool he might be making of himself and, if we might interpret his ability to commune with snakes as a sort of unconscious extension of his capacity to reach below the surface of the polite morality constraining his peers, we might properly understand the significance of his obliviousness as to what it is that he is speaking when he talks to snakes, what it might look like to the people around him, and even his surprise upon being told that, “no, it’s not normal to be able to talk with snakes.” Harry is a bridge between worlds; he understands the light and the dark and it’s not always clear which aspect of himself will win the day. If Harry’s goodness was never in doubt, he would not be the hero we know him to be, nor would he possess the dark potential he needs to confront the darkness of the world adequately. It’s a real struggle for Harry to choose a side. Harry knows and appreciates the brilliance of the light far more than his less conflicted peers because of how well versed he is in the world’s darkness. The true redeemer knows both worlds, deeply.

Harry’s heroism is also inseparable from his repeated willingness to unsettle, and his obliviousness regarding how he might be unsettling, those around him. He is oblivious to the offense – in some cases – of asking questions others are afraid to ask, to say the things they are afraid to say. Harry is the first to begin calling Voldemort by his name, naming evil for what it is. I suspect that Harry, ultimate beacon of acceptance that he is, would actually not fall neatly into any one political camp today, on any number of issues. Interesting that Rowling wrote such a character and that she, herself, has come under such fire for comments she’s made. Regardless of anyone's personal stance on gender pronouns or the semantics surrounding it - and while I very much doubt that anyone reading this would have a problem referring to anyone else however they wish to be referred to - I think we can agree that Rowling likely identifies with, and has an appreciation for, characters seemingly incapable of muzzling themselves in the midst of anything they'd regard as a form of encroaching censoriousness.

I’m not particularly interested in debating - at least in this thread - what may or may not, truly, constitute ”transphobia." The term seems to me, especially at this poin, to have become an almost entirely devalued and exploded term as a result of how vaguely and sloppily it's been thrown around, and with such haphazardly accusatorial menace in some instances. Nonetheless, if you’d like to shift course – here’s your chance: I found the following thread interesting.

I hope that I don't sound dismissively insensitive to anyone on this topic, I certainly don't intend to, and I'm not sure that I have much useful to offer save for the idea that we should - overly simple and cliched as it might sound - refresh, and take seriously, a commitment to the virtue of taking people at their word, and - truly - in good faith. It's too temptingly slippery a slope to declare menace, manifestly, where we merely suspect it.

3) Trauma scars, imprints, and imbues the victim with the powers of their abuser. It is imperative that one not bury those powers but bring them to the fore and develop their own competence in wielding them, no matter how frightening their potential might be.

My father, when he was younger, studied acting and a teacher of his offered the following thought: that where there is great resistance, there is great potential, great power. Often the aspects of ourselves we most want to hide from, that we most want not to be a part of us, actually hold the keys to our empowerment and our potential to face the parts of life we’re most afraid of (if we could only face them in ourselves). Not an original idea, exactly, but as with many things, it’s not the insight that’s important or noteworthy, but whether one can bring themselves to actualize the insight in any concrete way.

Harry is reminded repeatedly that Lord Voldemort was great; “terrible, but great.” Harry, if left to his own devices, might be more inclined to the run away from his true nature, and spend his life in denial of the truth that some of Voldemort lives in him, and it might only be by the graces of a universe requiring his heroism that he is forced to reckon with the latent potential of his cursedness.

Harry has been touched by that unspeakable darkness and it has left its mark – a familiar refrain throughout the series. Harry, like Luke Skywalker, would rather it not be the case that he is as dark as he is light; it’s not a burden he chose, it’s not the path he asked for, but he’s the only one with the potential to face the evil of the world forthrightly and if he’s going to have any hope of doing so successfully he’s going to need unfettered access to both the light and the dark within himself. Harry’s power comes not from choosing the light over the dark but from wielding them in tandem, and allowing all of it to be there.

We all suffer hurts. Some of them might leave us determined to be nothing like the person who hurt us. We will spend a lifetime living out a sort of unceasingly enacted rejection of everything that the abuser in question seemed to have stood for. This – again – not a particularly original insight, though – again – isn’t the point, exactly, anyways. Harry doesn’t have the luxury of being able to curiously ponder his psychical dilemmas, and the ways he’s been damaged. Harry’s got shit to do. People he cares about are counting on him, counting on his heroic actualization, and are not interested in - nor do they have time for - whatever insightful breakthroughs he may have had regarding his trauma save for his ability to concretely utilize those insights effectively. Harry, we might say, is actually lucky to have been kept in the dark regarding certain similarities between himself and Voldemort. Being overly interested in the sources of one's wounds often does more to strengthen one's identification with their wounds than it does to liberate the individual from them, sometimes giving way to that sort of perpetually paralyzing preoccupation with one's incapacitating woundedness, a few sufferers of which likely come to mind for all of us. An earlier assertion of mine returns to mind: that the hero is both blessed and cursed with a certain ignorance as to how their behavior might look to others. Harry is allowed to stumble headlong, by virtue of his own ignorance (as devised by Dumbledore, we might say), into various incidental behavioral likenesses with The Dark Lord (and there I go honoring his greatness with capital letters. Are you listening, Harry?) (Also, there is something curiously delicious about the phrase, Dark Lord).

It is incumbent upon Harry to develop a familiarity, even if not an entirely coherent competence, in the dark arts. It is incumbent upon Harry to develop his ability to lead, much like The Dark Lord. It is incumbent upon Harry to develop the strength of his convictions as well as his capacity to strike down his opponents (truly not an easy capacity to assert for those of us who identify as compassionate, kind people , and not a capacity to be taken lightly). It is incumbent upon Harry to develop his competence in wielding the same powers as Voldemort and to avail himself of the same potential for havoc and destruction. Harry’s proclivity for breaking rules is also worth mentioning – an obvious observation to be sure, but again, and more importantly, not to be taken lightly and to be made of what one will. In so many ways, Rowling got it right: Harry isn’t a “good guy,” and certainly isn’t a “nice guy.” Harry will die, and kill, for the people he loves, and will fight to the death for what he believes to be good in the world, but that is a far cry from being “nice.” Harry has been hardened, his gaze narrowed, by his burdens. He doesn’t have the luxury of being nice, and “good” falls considerably short of Harry’s ultimate heroic reckoning.

To sum up, since we are fast approaching an end to the fever-dreamt garbage fire that was 2020 - and if you're willing to join me in my regard for stories as the ultimate instructional guides for living that they are, as well as my regard for Rowling as one of the great instructors of our time - here are a few thoughts to take into 2021:

1) Don’t hide your spiders in the dark. Clean things up and shine some light where it needs it. You don’t have to go full Brene Brown if that’s the kinda thing that makes your skin….crawl…(for those in the back, losing interest the moment I mention Brene Brown, I see you!) but don’t kid yourself: your shame isn't as hidden as you might think, and you're not the only person your shame is hurting. …..not to shame you or anything.

2) Don’t be afraid to lean into your edge. Take your pursuits a little closer to the limit. Take a few steps further onto the tip of your own broomstick. Where might some more foolhardiness be in order? Ask a question you’re afraid to ask. Articulate a thought even if it’s likely to outrage some folks, so long as you’re honoring your own genuine curiosity and thirst for truth. Spread your philosophical wings a little wider, even if it’s likely to unsettle some of the moral politeness that those in your orbit have become accustomed to.

3) Spend some time with your wounds and your resentments. We all have those people, or ways of being, that we find ourselves silently raging against in our minds. Don’t try to tamp this stuff down – let yourself get worked up! Work it up a bit so that you might have a chance to become adequately familiar; this is a clue; our resentments are often lessons that we would be well served to integrate into our own lives rather than resenting in other’s. I personally find myself continually annoyed by, and judgmental of, other folk’s self promotorial audacity, and it will almost certainly serve me to begin spending more time promoting myself and all that I bring to the table.

Do not let whatever bit of preachy platitudinousness you may glean from these final admonishments dismay you. This is – again, and as always – me trying to work some shit out for me; me trying to make sense of, and clarify, the various noises echoing around inside my own head - to make a bit of meaning out of the madness and, in this case, as circumstance would have it, out of a bit of magic.