Here’s an interesting theological and literary question I was thinking about recently: Is a Christian’s patronus really just the Holy Spirit?
For muggles who don’t know, patronuses are sort of ghostly animals that play prominently in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. A patronus is unique to the wizard or witch who casts it, appearing at significant moments for special purposes.
For a variety of reasons, I think patronuses are angelic in form and role, if not downright Holy Spirit-esque.
The Patronus of God
I’ve never seen this connection made elsewhere, but it seems too perfect for Christian readers not to latch onto.
In John 14 and 16, the Holy Spirit is described as paracletos (αράκλητος), which is typically translated into English as Comforter, Helper, Advocate, or Counselor. Sometimes, it’s also left simply as Paraclete. Basically, a paraclete is someone who gives aid.
But the fascinating connection here for the wizarding world is this: the Latin translation for paracletos is patronus.
A patronus in the ancient Roman sense had the role of advocating for a client. It was not unlike a lawyer or a friend who comes to your defense.
This seems a pretty solid parallel to both wizarding patronuses and the third person of the Trinity.
The Paraclete is the Patronus.
For Harry and his Hogwarts-ian friends, patronuses serve a variety of functions. Most notably, they act as guardians, repelling Dementors (ghoulish, demon-like creatures that drain people of hope and happiness and can kill you with a fatal kiss).
One of Harry’s professors, Remus Lupin, describes patronuses like this:
“[It] is a kind of Anti-Dementor—a guardian which acts as a shield between you and the Dementor.”
Likewise, the Holy Spirit is a protector, convicting us of the sin that tries to drain us and helping us away from the cold, dark, separating prowess of the devil.
Like patronuses, the Holy Spirit also facilitates communication between people and prompts individuals to action. Albus Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall, and Arthur Weasley all employ their patronuses to deliver messages. And while the Holy Spirit isn’t our personal mailboy, he is a bringer of messages. The Holy Spirit helps us to interpret scripture. He opens our eyes to the revelations of the Father. He helps us share the gospel with others.
While patronuses typically take predictable forms for every individual—Harry’s is a stag, Hermione’s is an otter, Dumbledore’s is a phoenix—they can transform. They can also reveal themselves as nearly invisible wisps and vapors (non-corporeal) or as visible, defined creatures (corporeal). So too the Spirit often seems invisible to Christians, hidden “in our hearts” and unveiled only in visions, nudges, feelings, and convictions. But like the rare but spectacular patronus made corporeal, the Spirit sometimes appears in more tangible forms—manifesting in fire (Acts 2), in doves (Luke 3), sending angels (throughout the gospels), or in a form like that of other humans (Hebrews 13).
There is a scene in The Deathly Hallows, the final book in the series, in which Snape—a concealing, conniving, confusing wizard professor—conjures his patronus (a doe) to guide Harry to the location of Gryffindor’s sword. This is important for a number of reasons, but in the context of spiritual purpose, the patronus becomes one who leads Harry, knowingly or unknowingly, where he needs to go.
The same goes for the Spirit, who guides our steps, a faithful hand navigating us through darkness and trials.
Where Your Patronus Falls Short
To be sure, the analogy only goes so far. In the wizarding world, casting a patronus is dependent on individual wizards and witches. It’s also very advanced magic, a potential struggle even for skilled conjurers. The Holy Spirit of God, on the other hand, does not need our permission to do his work. Nor is he reserved for power-Christians, but rather is available—and essential—to every believer from the earliest breath in Christ.
Patronuses also feel no pain. Professor Lupin told Harry:
“The patronus is a kind of positive force, a projection of the very things that the Dementor feeds upon—hope, happiness, the desire to survive—but it cannot feel despair, as real humans can, so the Dementors can’t hurt it.”
It’s a fair comparison that the Spirit overflows with hope and joy. But it isn’t biblical to say that he is unfeeling. The Holy Spirit can grieve; he can be sad (Ephesians 4). The thing is, the Spirit’s power and peace means he can overcome demons or Dementors. The Holy Spirit does have emotions and our actions affect him. His emotions, however, are entirely just and righteous, not irrational or controlling.
Lastly, Potter-type patronuses don’t measure up to our biblical patronus because the phantom friends of wizards appear rarely and only for a moment. The Holy Spirit, the paraclete, however, is ever-present and ever-working.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a sort of spinoff story, outside of the canon, but very much within the Harry Potter universe. In it, at one point Snape casts his patronus with all the necessary preparation—thinking about a “single, very happy memory,” and reciting the incantation: Expecto Patronum! When the beautiful white doe bursts forth, Snape says, “Strange isn’t it? What comes from within.”
And while it’s not true that our memories or will or incantation bring about the Spirit, it is vitally true that the Holy Spirit is within us and is forever seeking the glory of God through us.
In any case, be sure to keep your wand of the Spirit at the ready (Ephesians 6:17). Keep your divine memories at the front of your mind (Deuteronomy 8, Psalm 105:5). And keep the words Expecto Patronum ever on your lips (Ephesians 5).
Expect the Holy Spirit.