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Voldemort: "There is nothing worse than death, Dumbledore!"
Albus Dumbledore: "You are quite wrong."
Lord Voldemort and Albus Dumbledore discussing death.[src]
Cedricdead

Harry Potter mourns over the dead body of Cedric Diggory

Death is the end of a living organism's life, technically defined in humans as either the permanent termination of heart function and respiration, or of brain activity.[1]

Afterlife

"After all, to the well-organised mind, death is but the next great adventure."
Albus Dumbledore comments on the afterlife[src]

While Death is understood in a purely physical sense, the nature of what lies beyond it is a mystery to wizards and witches and Muggles alike. When a wizard or witch dies, unlike a Muggle, he or she can choose to leave behind an imprint of their soul in the mortal world in the form of a ghost.[2][3] Few opt to become ghosts, however, as it means they will never "go on" like most people do.[2] Those who cross over to the other side cannot come back in any form resembling the physical body they had in life.[4] The exception being the beings brought back using the Resurrection Stone. However, it is described that they do not belong in the mortal world, being only a semi-corporeal form, "less substantial" than a living body but "much more" than a ghost.[5]

Immortality and Resurrection

Resurrection Stone

The Resurrection Stone has the power to bring back "shades" of loved ones

There is no known way to magically reunite a person's soul with their body once they have died.[6] Many young witches and wizards discovered this through the story of Babbitty Rabbitty and Her Cackling Stump (in which the protagonist Babbitty is blackmailed by a charlatan to perform magic for a king, but doesn't bother raising her wand when the king attempts to raise a dog from the dead.) During the six centuries have elapsed since Beedle wrote the tale, innumberable ways have been devised to maintain the illusion of the continuing presence of one's loved ones. For example, wizarding photographs and portraits move and (in the case of the latter) talk just like their subjects.

Similarly, the Mirror of Erised may also reveal more than a static image of a lost loved one. Ghosts are transparent, moving, talking, and thinking versions of wizards and witches who decided, for whatever reason, to remain on earth. The closest to resurrecting the dead would be the Resurrection Stone, which can recall someone who has died from the beyond, but they will return only in a semi-corporeal form, "less substantial" than a living body but "much more" than a ghost.[7]

Despite this, wizards have still not found a way of reuniting body and soul once death has occurred. This subject was covered by eminent Wizarding philosopher Bertrand de Pensées-Profondes in his celebrated work A Study into the Possibility of Reversing the Actual and Metaphysical Effects of Natural Death, with Particular Regard to the Reintegration of Essence and Matter, during which he stated that reversing death would never be physically possible. Phoenixes are the sole exception to the rules of death, as they can be reborn from their ashes without any restraints or assistance.

However, while there exists no known method of reversing death once it has occurred, there are certain things a witch or wizard can do to postpone their death or prolong their life (even further than the longevity which would seem to be granted by magical ability e.g. Albus Dumbledore's health despite his advanced age).

The Elixir of Life, which is made from the Philosopher's Stone, will grant a person extended life for as long as they continue to consume it.[8][9] However, because the only known Philosopher's Stone was destroyed in 1992, this method is no longer available.[9]Unicorn blood can keep alive a person who is near death, but unicorns are such pure, defenceless creatures that a person who kills one and drinks its blood will have "but a half-life."[10] A wizard or witch who rips their soul through an act of murder can place that torn fragment inside of an external object called a Horcrux.[11]

By binding a part of their soul to the earth, the Horcrux prevents the wizard or witch from dying, even if their body is injured or completely destroyed.[11] However, there is a cost to using Horcruxes — as shown in the deterioration of Lord Voldemort's physical condition after repeatedly splitting his soul, as well as the mangled spectral state he has been trapped in during the destruction of his physical body. There is a potion which enables the Horcrux-creator's body to be reconstructed in the latter scenario. Overall, however, many wizards and witches would prefer death over such a pitiful state of existence. It seems if this potion is used, and the wizard is returned to a ressurected body, they seem to be unable to die until all of the Horcruxes are destroyed, as shown with Lord Voldemort during the final battle of Hogwarts, as only when all of his Horcruxes were destroyed did his Killing Curse rebound.

Corpses can also be reanimated through Dark magic.[12][3] Known as Inferi, these creatures are not alive, and simply do whatever the wizard who controls them wants, like puppets.[12][3]

Study and perception of death

Death Chamber 1

The Veil in the Death Chamber of the Department of Mysteries.

There is a chamber in the Department of Mysteries where witches and wizards study the mysteries of death.[2] In this chamber is the Veil, an ancient stone archway, which is a gateway between the world of the living and the world of the dead.[4] People standing around the Veil may hear voices from the other side depending on their level of faith in an afterlife.[4][13] A person whose body passes through the Veil will die.[4][14]

Wizarding philosopher Bertrand de Pensées-Profondes also researched death. He wrote a highly-regarded work on the subject, A Study into the Possibility of Reversing the Actual and Metaphysical Effects of Natural Death, with Particular Regard to the Reintegration of Essence and Matter.[6]

Thestrals are magical creatures visible only to people who have witnessed a death firsthand.[15] However, the ability to see thestrals does not come immediately, but only after one has had time to fully understand death and its finality.[16][17][18]

See also

Author's comments

"Do you absolutely have a sense of how evil it is to take another person’s life? Yes, I think in my book you do. I think you do. I think you see that is a horrific thing. I have enormous respect for human life. I do not think that you would read… the deaths in [my books] and think, yeah, well, he’s gone, off we go. Not at all. I think it’s very clear where my sympathies lie. And here we are dealing with someone, I’m dealing with a villain who does hold human life incredibly cheap. That’s how it happens: one squeeze of the trigger. Gone. Forever. That’s evil. It’s a terrible, terrible thing..."
J. K. Rowling
"It is not about striving for immortality, but about accepting mortality."
J. K. Rowling on becoming the Master of Death

Appearances

Notes and references

  1. "Death" on Wikipedia
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Order of the Phoenix, Ch. 38
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Half-Blood Prince, Ch. 21
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 "More About that Veil" from HarryAHistory.com
  5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
  6. 6.0 6.1 The Tales of Beedle the Bard, page 79
  7. Deathly Hallows, Ch. 34
  8. Philosopher's Stone, Ch. 13
  9. 9.0 9.1 Philosopher's Stone, Ch. 17
  10. Philosopher's Stone, Ch. 15
  11. 11.0 11.1 Half-Blood Prince, Ch. 23
  12. 12.0 12.1 Half-Blood Prince, Ch. 4
  13. Order of the Phoenix, Ch. 34
  14. Order of the Phoenix, Ch. 35
  15. Order of the Phoenix, Ch. 21
  16. 2003 interview at Royal Albert Hall on Accio! Quote
  17. 2004 Edinburgh Book Festival on JKRowling.com
  18. F.A.Q. question on JKRowling.com

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