Christians and Harry Potter. Mission Statement.Frequently asked questions.The Good... and the Bad.
What Religious Leaders Say.Reviews.RecomendationsTestimoniesLinks

"Tea and Suffering"

An Essay by kate885 at LJ

[originally posted in the harrynthepotter Livejournal community]

‘Right, you’ve got a wonky sort of cross…’ he said, consulting Unfogging the Future. ‘That means you’re going to have “trials and suffering”- sorry about that- but there’s a thing that could be the sun. Hang on … that means “great happiness” … so you’re going to suffer but be very happy…’ Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, page 81, U.K. paperback edition.

That’s a pretty profound statement coming from a 13 year old boy (not that he noticed).

According to my admittedly shallow research of Tasseography, the "art" of reading tea leaves, Harry’s (and therefore JKR’s) interpretations were correct. The cross is a symbol of suffering and the sun denotes happiness.

Pre-Christian beliefs used the cross as a sun symbol (among other things). The Assyrians used a Maltese-cross-like symbol for the sun as well as a bird, a (phoenix-like) winged-orb symbol with cross-like features. Equating the cross with suffering comes from the Roman use of the wooden cross as a form of torturous execution- specifically of Christ. Along with suffering, the cross also symbolizes resurrection due to Christ’s victory over death. Although the cross is a symbol used across many, many cultures, in this instance it seems to be being used within the Christian context. Therefore I am going to skip early cultural references to the sun and stay within the Christian milieu (although most of them seem to be symbolic of resurrection also).

The sun is a symbol of resurrection due to its continual setting and rising, a kind of death and rebirth. Its life-giving rays reach toward the earth bringing forth new life, etc, etc. So the cross and the sun, as symbols, are saying very much the same thing, albeit with differing emphasis. But with the Christian addition of suffering as a subtext, the two symbols become almost different sides of the same coin.

If you break the words down it goes like this:

Suffering: Suffering is any unwanted condition and the corresponding negative emotion. It is usually associated with pain and unhappiness, but any condition can be suffering if it is unwanted. Antonyms include happiness or pleasure. Wikepedia.

suf•fer v. suf•fered, suf•fer•ing, suf•fers v. intr. To feel pain or distress; sustain loss, injury, harm, or punishment. To tolerate or endure evil, injury, pain, or death. [Middle English suffren, from Old French sufrir, from Vulgar Latin sufferre, from Latin sufferre : sub-, sub- + ferre, to carry]

Happy: Happiness, pleasure or joy is the emotional state of being happy. The definition of happiness is one of the greatest philosophical quandaries. Proposed definitions include freedom from want and distress, consciousness of the good order of things, assurance of one's place in the universe or society, inner peace, and so forth. More generally, though, it can be defined as the state which humans and other animals are behaviorally driven towards, to counter external forces which would otherwise lead to unhappiness (and presumably eventual death).

Associated emotions include joy, exultation, delight, bliss, and love. Antonyms include suffering, sadness, grief, and pain. The term pleasure (like its opposite pain) is often used to specifically indicate localized, physical sensations, while happiness is sometimes used to refer specifically to a long-term, inner feeling. Wikipedia

hap•py adj. hap•pi•er, hap•pi•est Characterized by good luck; fortunate. Enjoying, showing, or marked by pleasure, satisfaction, or joy. Being especially well-adapted; felicitous: a happy turn of phrase. Cheerful; willing: happy to help. [Middle English, from hap, luck. See hap.]

So what does all this mean? I don't know for sure, but I have the feeling it's significant. Notice that these words are specific antonyms- opposites in other words. In Harry’s statement they’re used in dramatic opposition (JK uses this a lot). Harry obviously thinks he’s not making very much sense. In fact I think he’s making a great deal of sense.

Suffering is an intrinsic part of the so-called "human condition"; in other words we all do it, perhaps in greatly varying degrees, but all humans experience some kind of suffering. It’s the same thing with happiness. It’s universal in human experience. But are the two mutually exclusive? Can one suffer and yet be very happy? I would say yes, they can. Firstly, if you look at what Harry says, there are at least two possible interpretations of the statement. One is a before/after situation and the other is static. Option one: Ron suffers and then, later, is very happy. In the latter he suffers and is happy anyway.

The first couple of times I read PoA that line always jumped out at me. "Ooh!" I said, "Foreshadowing. Life is going to stink for Ron, but in the end he’ll be just fine." Now, I still think that this is a valid reading of the text. But there are levels and there are levels. I think this toss-off line is much more central to the meaning of the series. Now, what does this have to do with resurrection imagery? Well, resurrection is another word for rebirth, right? Harry is symbolically reborn at the end of each novel. Now, I’m not saying that he’s resurrected at the end of each book, just "reborn" with a completely new perspective; but, it seems obvious that A) the resurrection theme is important and B) that the resurrection symbolism and symbolic rebirthing are tied together thematically.

But what does that have to do with suffering and happiness?

Suffering has always been a part of Harry’s rebirthing experience; think of Quirrellmort, Tom Riddle, Sirius’s abrupt removal and two showdowns with Voldy himself. Pain is an essential part of the birthing (and rebirthing) process. And just look at all of OoTP; not for nothing has it been called "The Long Dark Night of Harry’s Soul." Harry’s story is essentially a story of suffering. But, up until OoTP, he has always been able to work through it. He has always managed to find the truth and the joy in his life. And I think, after his conversation with Luna at the end, he began to move toward that truth again.

Harry is, in an exaggerated way, an Everyman. He lives the same life we live in the real world, just highly colored. We all have huge things in our lives that we have to overcome. We all have our own personal Voldemorts. We all have a "destiny." We all need to be reborn.

So, I think that part of the point of including all of this resurrection imagery, combined with suffering, is to give us hope for our own lives; so that we know that no matter how dark things get, the sun is always going to come out again if we can just see it. Yes, we suffer. But, through our union with Christ, our own Resurrection with Him, we can be happy through any suffering. Because of Christ's sacrifice, even the tomb is called happy:

Christ is Risen from the dead, Trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs, Bestowing Life.

O happy tomb! It received within itself the Creator, as one asleep, and it was made a divine treasury of life, for our salvation who sing: O God our Deliverer, blessed art Thou.

The Life of all submits to be laid in the tomb, according to the law of the dead, and He makes it a source of awakening, for our salvation who sing: O God our Deliverer, blessed art Thou.
(Eastern Orthodox Paschal Hymns)

Note: Please don't confuse research into Tasseography (the "art" of reading tea leaves) with the practice of Tasseography. We can learn a lot about other people and cultures by learning about what they used to believe (or continue to believe), but no one is suggesting picking up the practice of Tasseography.

Here, and likely by J.K. Rowling as well, it is simply being used for it's symbolic aspects and not being suggested as a reliable means of governing the future.

While Katie has seen something inspirational in the words "so you’re going to suffer but be very happy", the average reader is likely to take it as a joke on the unreliability of divination.
For day to day life, we like Ron Weasley's attitude towards Tasseography:
"And from now on, I don't care if my tea leaves spell die, Ron, die--I'm just chucking them in the bin where they belong." - Order of the Phoenix Ch. 31

Disclaimer: This website does not represent Warner Bros., J.K. Rowling, any publisher or religious organization. We are simply Christians and fans who want to provide useful information and discussion on the topics of and surrounding Harry Potter.