One of the reasons I like the story of Harry Potter so much is that even though the author of the books, J.K. Rowling, may not herself espouse a Shaman’s view of the world, she does not look down her nose at people who see things from other perspectives. I also like the fact that although JKR doesn’t consider herself a magick-user in the real world, she respects her own intuition enough to allow it to guide her, and as a result of this, she actually does get some real-world magickal things “right”. Case in point, the nature of magickal wands.
The consensus-reality, real-time Shaman/Witch/Wizard’s view of the world and the Cosmos is that everything that exists within it– including dirt, water, rocks, and your dining room table– is part of a whole and living system, and therefore all things share in that life and sentience, even if they appear to be externally inert. In the Harry Potter books this magickal truism is expressed by the adage “the wand chooses the wizard”.
This magickal fact– that wands apparently think, feel and make choices– is represented in the series as being a very deeply mysterious thing that even witches and wizards themselves do not fully understand. I think it is presented as such because the author herself is looking at the story she is telling from a human perspective. Considering the sentience of wands to be a complete mystery would be the bog-standard muggle view of things, and I will say here that although I dislike the term muggle, I will use it in this post to indicate someone looking at the world from a point-of-view that holds that magick does not exist, rather than as an epithet for a person who cannot utilize energy to perform magick, as I do not think there are any real muggles in the latter sense of the term.
To a muggle point-of-view, then, wands that choose who they will bond with would appear quite strange and not at all understandable, but to a witch or wizard in the story, this should be a perfectly normal and natural state of affairs. It is also a phenomenon understandable by real-world magick-users, and I would now like to explain the entirely possible, real-world-magick reasons why Harry Potter and Voldemort were chosen by their respective wands, and why their wands reacted to one another as they did throughout the story.
First, let us look at Harry and Voldemort themselves. There are both strong parallels and differences between them, and these likenesses/differences are what drive the wands’ choices of the two wizards in the story. One of the most important parallels between the two is that both Harry and Voldemort lose their mothers in infancy– Voldemort’s mother dies, heart-broken and depressed, within hours of his birth, and Voldemort himself deprives Harry of his. (It is also one of the ways that Voldemort “marks Harry as his equal”– you’ll want to remember that prophecy by Sibyll Trelawney, as it also helps explain the magickal subtext of what is going on.) The actual circumstances surrounding the loss of each wizard’s mother are very different, and these differences also play a magickal role in how things develop– i.e., Voldemort’s mother dies in despair, leaving him truly alone, while Harry’s mum dies out of great love for him, defending and protecting him against terrible danger.
Now we all know what was said in the story about Lily Potter’s love protecting her son, and so on, but here’s how I as a magick-user understand the subtext– we start with Lily Potter desperately pleading for her son Harry’s life, and Voldemort kills her without a moment’s hesitation, as he is intent on killing Harry. As Lily dies, her great love continues to hold her Spirit near her son, and when Voldemort attempts to kill Harry, Lily’s energy (now entirely free of her physical body) can and does defend him by joining her own energy to her son’s, and both mother and son backhand Voldemort across the face with his own curse. Now that Lily is dead, her Spirit must of course “go on”, but the power of her love stays with her son, and even though a shard of Voldemort has broken off and embedded itself in Harry, the strength of Lily’s love and courage help keep the soul-fragment repressed. Thus Harry is the “Horcrux that Voldemort did not intend to make”– Voldemort doesn’t even realize that he’s made one, and Lily’s love keeps Harry safe from psychic take-over by the Spirit-fragment, so Voldemort does not understand until very, very late in the game that an extra bit of his soul-stuff is missing, and worse yet, his officially designated enemy and equal has possession of it.
The other thing that happens in the magickal exchange is that the energy directed at Harry literally marks him. Hagrid opines that Harry’s lightning-bolt-shaped scar is “the mark of a Dark curse”, but from a magickal perspective, the lightning bolt scar that Harry wears is the rune Sowilu, the Sun, symbol of light, truth, life and justice. While it is a physical mark of the rebounding energy of Voldemort’s Killing Curse, it is also once again something that is tempered and channeled by his mother’s abiding love into a much more positive result– the runic scar actually assists Harry in attracting the particular wand he winds up with, but more of this matter in a moment.
The rebounding curse destroys Voldemort’s physical body, but he cannot die and “go on” as Lily has done because he is trapped on the physical plane of existence (without access to Spirit-resources) by the Horcruxes he has made. Lily, on the other hand, passes beyond, and having bequeathed her maternal love to her son, she now becomes a fully-fledged Ancestral Spirit with a fair amount of power at her disposal. Because her exit from life was both clean and heroic, she is able to take on the guardian-and-protector role of an Ancestor almost immediately, and as Albus Dumbledore surely knows, her Ancestral Power to protect Harry will be augmented by Harry’s proximity to Lily’s sister, Petunia. So off Harry goes to live with the Dursleys, at good old Number Four, Privet Drive.
J.K. Rowling has mentioned that she chose the number four as the address for the Dursleys because the number always seemed “stodgy” to her (i.e., four-square, meaning “nice and normal”), but when a magick-user hears the mention of the number four, it evokes a different meaning altogether. Four is a very important number in many magickal traditions because of the Earth’s Four Quarters– North, East, South, and West. The number four is often used as a sort of magickal shorthand for the protections offered by each of the Quarters during magickal ritual, and some protective formulas are repeated in fours, so that there is one repetition for each Quarter, making a circle of protection around the wizard or witch performing them. This magickal use of the number four is echoed by the four Houses at Hogwarts, and each of the Houses is associated with a color and a classical Element (Earth, Air, Fire, or Water), just as the Quarters themselves are. By placing Harry with the Dursleys, Dumbledore makes sure that Lily’s Ancestral Powers surround Harry completely, and protect him in every direction, giving him his mother’s protection against the second strand of magick at work here, that of Voldemort’s Marking of Harry as his equal by having attempted to kill him.
Being Marked as Voldemort’s equal means that Harry’s early life circumstances now begin to magickally parallel Voldemort’s– living with the Dursleys, Harry endures true privation and aloneness, in almost the same way that young and orphaned Tom Riddle did, but with one difference: even though the Dursleys are completely horrible to him, they still (rather begrudgingly) grant Harry “family space”, which means that he can directly access his mother’s Ancestral protective powers. Be it ever so wretched, the Cupboard Beneath The Stairs still lies within a magickal circle, cast by Lily’s love and kept very much alive by Petunia’s blood-relationship to Harry.
Now let us turn to the wands themselves. We know from the story that the cores of Harry’s and Voldemort’s wands are the same, and they are also unique– they are the only two feathers ever given for wand-making by Albus Dumbledore’s Phoenix, Fawkes. Since Voldemort a) was chosen by the Yew/Phoenix wand, and b) since he had specifically Marked Harry as his equal, the other wand of the pair was primed to choose Harry, because the magick set in motion by Voldemort the night his Curse rebounded ensured just this outcome.
The woods that each of the wands are made from are also of interest, as they reflect in both cases a sort of “energy-bequest” from each deceased magickal mother to her still-living son. Voldemort’s wand is made of Yew, and as I posted previously, the energy properties of Yew wood are watery/airy and feminine. The Yew is the tree of death, the Ancestors, regeneration, and most interestingly, sure protection against evil and harm. Yew-energy is also very useful for magicks involving the dead, and for contacting the dead for their help and advice. From a magickal perspective, the Yew’s choice of Voldemort would seem to indicate that his deceased mother has regrets and wishes she could have helped him more, so the Yew is “sent” in hopes that he will somehow find his way back to her by the use of the its magick. The Yew also embodies Voldemort’s mother’s wish to belatedly protect her son, no matter what wrongs he has committed– Yew-energy is the absolutely best protection against harm, and in the story, as long as he was using his Yew wand, Voldemort was pretty much protected against any of the unpleasant consequences of his actions.
From a magickal perspective, when he accepted the Yew-wand’s choice of him, Voldemort was in a way unconsciously seeking after his dead mother, and when he rejected the Yew after the Priore Incantatem incident, Voldemort rejected his mother– and her post-death magickal gift of iron-clad protection– all over again. He could not get past seeing both his clinically depressed mother and his feminine-water-air Yew wand as “weak”, yet without the pliancy of the Yew (which is a springy wood that is often used to make hunting and long-bows) to assist him, both he and his magick became brittle and open to fracture and defeat.
In contrast, the wood of Harry’s wand is Holly. Magickally, it is said to hold a masculine polarity, and it is also associated with the element of fire. Holly is also held to be able to repel lightning-strikes, and it recognizes a kindred-spirit in Harry, who with his mother’s love, was able to repel the searing bolt of a Killing Curse. Harry is even marked with a lightning-bolt-shaped sign, indicative of his Holly-like power to repel harmful energy.
Another important piece of Holly-lore is that the Holly is the plant of the Winter Sun-King, just as the Oak is the tree of the Summer King. As the plant of the Winter King, the Holly represents the quality of emerging successfully from trial and adversity, which is just what Harry has done by making it to age 11 and leaving the Dursleys for the first time in his young life to go to Hogwarts and take up his magickal birthright. When he enters Ollivander’s, he has “Holly/Phoenix wand” written all over him, in a manner of speaking– and with a magickal sun-rune on his forehead spelling it out, no less!
Now as to the way the two wands– Yew and Holly– interact: since Voldemort and Harry are self-marked and identified as wizards of equal strength, and since the cores of their wands are not only identical with regard to substance but also in origin, the difference between the two wizards and their wands comes down to the wood. Yew is feminine-polarity, and Holly is masculine, and with their shared identical cores, they are more correctly thought of as a Sacred Couple, with “one heart beating in two breasts” rather than as “brother-wands” the way Ollivander describes them. When Voldemort regenerates his physical body (just as the Yew tree can regenerate its entire above-ground body from its root-bole) the two wands come face-to-face for the first time since they went out into the world from Ollivander’s shop. And far from it being a mystery with regard to how they will interact, any student of occult lore will be able to tell you with no difficulty. First, the two wands will not want to fight each other, due to their shared cores and the compassionate altruism of Phoenix-energy, and second, the Yew (female) will magickally open and receive the Holly (male) as her Sacred Other, which is exactly what happened when the two wands were forced to duel.
Something also occurs, thanks to Yew being the premier facilitator of communication with the dead– instead of simple images of Harry’s mother and father appearing due to Priore Incantatem, the Yew-energy augments them and allows the released shades to hold off Voldemort and his Death-Eaters long enough for Harry to escape with Cedric’s corpse, leaving Voldemort (who has stupidly neglected to plumb all of his Yew-wand’s magickal possibilities in favor of simply using it to deal out physical agony and death) feeling bewildered and angry, and underneath it all, betrayed. He very belatedly becomes interested in wandlore, but superficially, as in “what wand can I get hold of that will be stronger than Harry Potter and his wand?” More importantly, he stops using his Yew wand, a mistake of major proportions, as his Yew-given protection from any and all harm is now gone.
Because the Holly-wand and the Yew-wand share identical-origin cores, Harry’s wand knows that Voldemort has abandoned the wand that chose him. In a way, it’s another parallel with the wizards that wield the wands– Harry and Voldemort are aware of each other because Harry is the unintentional Horcrux, and the Holly and Yew know each other because they share cores. The bottom line is that Voldemort has been disloyal to– and dismissive of– his Yew/Phoenix wand, and when he attacks Harry at the beginning of Deathly Hallows with a borrowed wand, Harry’s wand acts of its own volition, fighting Voldemort with true anger for his magickal disrespect of the wand that of her own will came to Tom Riddle as a boy to partner with him magickally and help him. Voldemort then seeks the Death-Stick– The Elder Wand that is one of the Deathly Hallows– but even though the Elder Wand is very powerful, it does not grant the same all-purpose, all-the-time protection against harm that is the hallmark of the Yew, so ultimately, despite the strength of the wand, Voldemort remains vulnerable to magickal and physical injury.
Now, I have heard and read enough interviews with JKR to know that she is not a practicing magick-user in the real world. I also know that she has done her homework very well, so I know that the assignment of the Yew to Voldemort and the Holly to Harry were conscious choices on her part. What I do not think is planned is the “magickal correctness” with which the sentient wands operate– this I credit to her intuition and her willingness to be guided by it, which is a distinctly magickal trait, and which also gives a fabulous richness to her story of The Boy Who Lived.
[As a post-script, I will say that all rights to the characters and plot-lines mentioned here belong to J.K. Rowling as the author of the Harry Potter series, and the rights to the general magickal information within this article, as well as the conclusions drawn from it, reside with me. Go ahead and quote freely as long as attribution is given, but no copying of this post wholesale to submit as a school paper or to pass off as one’s own writing on another website. I am a magick-user myself, which means 1) I will find out, even if you live in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, and 2) the copyright-violation-hex is primed and ready to go. It is self-activating, but not self-limiting, meaning that you will have to confess to me and to the people you deceived by passing my work off as your own before I remove it. In the meantime, your ability to attract bad luck will become the stuff of legend.]