What Really Happened to Dolores Umbridge (and Why It Matters)

The Friendly Atheist has already pointed out religious people are geeks. This must mean Pagans are uber-geeks, because we can seamlessly slide from theology into Monty Python and back again. Which is why when my friend Anita posted a simple question about Harry Potter we delved deeply into religion, gender issues and all things Harry Potter. Like we do.

Here’s her question, paraphrased: in the Order of the Phoenix Dolores Umbridge is carried off into the woods by centaurs after she insults them. She appears alive and whole later on, having been rescued by Dumbledore, but has obviously undergone a traumatic experience. What happened to her when the centaurs carried her off?

Quite a few commenters, myself included, came to the same conclusion as Cracked.com, that she had been raped:

People on the Internet familiar with the mythology were quick to notice this, as were feminist blogs. After all, showing Umbridge getting dragged away by centaurs would be like having Draco Malfoy getting his comeuppance by having him get hauled into the back of a windowless van by a creepy guy with a wispy mustache. We don’t need to see what happens next if we know the context.

Centaurs are known for a lot of things, it’s true, but most of the famous ancient stories about them involve abducting women. If a centaur had gently conducted her into a library, we would all have jumped to the conclusion that he was going to patiently educate the mean, sadistic, racist woman all dressed in pink, like the famous centaur Chiron would have done. But when a bunch of angry centaurs forcibly drag a woman who’s insulted them off into the woods, a lot of folks jump to the idea of rape. My mind immediately brought up the story of the abduction of the Lapithian women, but there’s also the story of Nessus.

It could be argued that rape, seduction and abduction are simply prevalent Greek themes and to place undue emphasis on centaurs as rapists in Greek mythos is wrong, and there is also the problem of seduction and rape as the ancients viewed it not lining up with our modern view. All worthy of discussion, but the interesting thing here is that if Umbridge was raped by the centaurs, how do we feel about the characters reactions, and our own reactions? And what does this mean for us in religious terms?

Whatever happened to Umbridge, Harry and Hermione made no move to stop it. After her rescue, they actually torment her a bit and laugh at her. It’s generally an unspoken rule in Harry Potter that if bad things happen to bad people, they deserve it. Even when it’s being murdered. If Umbridge was raped, in the books and film it’s treated as no more than her due.

We have a visceral reaction of disgust and outrage at the idea of treating rape so casually, far more than we have to brutality or murder. It makes us far more uncomfortable to think of Umbridge being raped than to think of her being killed, or of the better-loved Tonks being killed. Why is that, when Umbridge is physically unharmed and lives to fight another day, while Tonks will never see another day? Someone suggested that rape is something we perceive as happening to vulnerable and powerless people. Perhaps we see murder as something that happens to powerful people then, and have a milder emotional response?

There are a lot of questions that can arise from this, but it got me to thinking about our religious views. Kore has descended to become the Dread Queen, Persephone. We actually celebrate this cycle of a woman being released only to inevitably be sent back to her rapist. Perhaps the story is better interpreted as seduction, that Hades won Kore’s heart away from her mother and caused her to willingly abandon her home, which would have been considered a worse crime than the physical act of rape in ancient society. Why do we celebrate this?

How many Gods and demi-Gods are said to be borne of rape? Europa is not the only woman Zeus abducted, and his conquest of Ganymede was via abduction as well. Rape is so prevalent it’s even a category of classically-inspired art. How do we reconcile this? Rape is nothing to sneeze at, nor are other forms of violence and yet we tend to accept the violence inherent in ancient myths while being disgusted and outraged when it’s hinted at in modern mythos, such as Harry Potter.

I’ve got more questions than answers on this, but I don’t think anyone would characterize Pagan culture as rape culture, so I think we have a problem. How do we resolve the celebration of rape narratives in Pagan religions?

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About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.

  • Nickaponzi

    Huh??

  • Nickaponzi

    Huh??

  • Ursyl

    Rape never occurred to me, either when reading the books or watching the movie.  I think I just figured they ran her through the forest, to scare the living…. out of her, then dumped her.  She certainly didn’t change sides out of gratitude for being rescued by Dumbledore.

    Will keep this in mind next time I read the books, see if my thoughts change.

  • Ursyl

    Rape never occurred to me, either when reading the books or watching the movie.  I think I just figured they ran her through the forest, to scare the living…. out of her, then dumped her.  She certainly didn’t change sides out of gratitude for being rescued by Dumbledore.

    Will keep this in mind next time I read the books, see if my thoughts change.

  • http://twitter.com/ouranophobe Áine

    There’s actually a bit of debate over whether or not the tale of Kore’s transition from daughter to wife, maiden to queen, Kore to Persephone involved rape, whether as we know it or as it was known by the ancients.  (Rape, of course, comes to us from the Latin, rapere, which means to abduct.)

    You might want to read Charlene Spretnak’s treatment of the matter.

    • Anonymous

      I’ve found some very interesting lines of inquiry resulting from reading Spretnak.   While The use of “abducting” “rape” and “marriage” of the titular “king-god” (e.g. Zeus) of various regional mother Goddesses occurred as a ritual act associated with wars of conquest. I never found evidence of this in the sorties of Persephone, but there are intriguing art and references to Kore and a boy-deity seemingly to be Zagraes (Zues) in Crete. Max Daschu has some interesting things to say as well.

  • http://twitter.com/ouranophobe Áine

    There’s actually a bit of debate over whether or not the tale of Kore’s transition from daughter to wife, maiden to queen, Kore to Persephone involved rape, whether as we know it or as it was known by the ancients.  (Rape, of course, comes to us from the Latin, rapere, which means to abduct.)

    You might want to read Charlene Spretnak’s treatment of the matter.

    • LezlieKinyon

      I’ve found some very interesting lines of inquiry resulting from reading Spretnak.   While The use of “abducting” “rape” and “marriage” of the titular “king-god” (e.g. Zeus) of various regional mother Goddesses occurred as a ritual act associated with wars of conquest, I never found evidence of this in the stories of Persephone, but there are intriguing art and references to Kore and a boy-deity seemingly to be Zagraes (Zues) in Crete. Max Daschu has some interesting things to say as well.

  • http://vermillionrush.wordpress.com/ Vermillion

    Considering how much Rowling researched the series and the fact that she originally wrote it for kids I can’t imagine that is what she meant when the Centaurs carried off Umbridge. Now granted I haven’t read the books in a bit and Pottermore is not that far so I can’t check but aren’t her Centaurs learned creatures? I can’t imagine them doing something like that.

    My interpretation was the same as Ursyl’s, that they ran her through the forest and left her there to get the crap scared out of her. I agree rape culture is something to worry about but in HARRY POTTER?

  • http://www.magickal-media.com Alice C. “A.C.” Fisher Aldag

    I didn’t see it that way at all…

    I viewed Prof. Umbridge as being a very clean, well educated, nicely dressed and groomed person, an “indoor” person.  The centaurs represented outdoor people, who gather their own food and firewood, go hunting, and live in the woods. 

    I saw Professor Umbridge as having the same reaction as university folklore students when they come to my farm to hear some folktales, and I slaughter a chicken for supper.  Or “Winnebago Pagans” when they attend a festival at a primitive camping site… “You mean I have to poo WHERE?” 

    I almost feel sorry for poor professor Umbridge, who prolly went through a gallon of hand sanitizer after her rescue!

  • http://www.magickal-media.com Alice C. “A.C.” Fisher Aldag

    I didn’t see it that way at all…

    I viewed Prof. Umbridge as being a very clean, well educated, nicely dressed and groomed person, an “indoor” person.  The centaurs represented outdoor people, who gather their own food and firewood, go hunting, and live in the woods. 

    I saw Professor Umbridge as having the same reaction as university folklore students when they come to my farm to hear some folktales, and I slaughter a chicken for supper.  Or “Winnebago Pagans” when they attend a festival at a primitive camping site… “You mean I have to poo WHERE?” 

    I almost feel sorry for poor professor Umbridge, who prolly went through a gallon of hand sanitizer after her rescue!

  • http://www.magickal-media.com Alice C. “A.C.” Fisher Aldag

    I didn’t see it that way at all…

    I viewed Prof. Umbridge as being a very clean, well educated, nicely dressed and groomed person, an “indoor” person.  The centaurs represented outdoor people, who gather their own food and firewood, go hunting, and live in the woods. 

    I saw Professor Umbridge as having the same reaction as university folklore students when they come to my farm to hear some folktales, and I slaughter a chicken for supper.  Or “Winnebago Pagans” when they attend a festival at a primitive camping site… “You mean I have to poo WHERE?” 

    I almost feel sorry for poor professor Umbridge, who prolly went through a gallon of hand sanitizer after her rescue!

  • http://profiles.google.com/tpoaic Cora Post

    I agree with Alice…that’s what I think really happened. I did have “rape” enter my mind but really I think being outdoors with “party animals” did Umbridge in.

    Interesting that you bring up the rape issue within Paganism. I wrote three such posts last year on this topic:

    http://tpoaic.blogspot.com/2010/09/moral-dilemma.html

    http://tpoaic.blogspot.com/2010/09/more-on-my-moral-dilemma.html

    http://tpoaic.blogspot.com/2010/09/moral-dilemma-rape-of-persephone.html

    I still haven’t made complete peace with it all and still like to think that Kore and Hades really do/did love each other and perhaps Demeter was a tad over bearing… is that blasphemous ?!

  • http://profiles.google.com/tpoaic Cora Post

    I agree with Alice…that’s what I think really happened. I did have “rape” enter my mind but really I think being outdoors with “party animals” did Umbridge in.

    Interesting that you bring up the rape issue within Paganism. I wrote three such posts last year on this topic:

    http://tpoaic.blogspot.com/2010/09/moral-dilemma.html

    http://tpoaic.blogspot.com/2010/09/more-on-my-moral-dilemma.html

    http://tpoaic.blogspot.com/2010/09/moral-dilemma-rape-of-persephone.html

    I still haven’t made complete peace with it all and still like to think that Kore and Hades really do/did love each other and perhaps Demeter was a tad over bearing… is that blasphemous ?!

  • http://dianarajchel.com Diana Rajchel

    If you look closely, the Potter series was never that innocent and progressively set aside “innocence” as the characters became very, very aware of the dangers of the world. While they were imaginary and metaphorical, the metaphors were quite present. It was clear from the beginning that Harry was raised in a household with emotional violence, and the physical violence only stopped when his dear old auntie and uncle thought he might have the power to fight back. Children’s books these days have abandoned their unhealthy Disney-erific sanitation in favor of some real honesty with kids about things that kids, even privileged western ones, actually have to see and deal with – regardless of their parents’ denail about it/insistence that it’s “just for kids.”

    Damn straight it was centaur rape. An author that takes the time to work in  the real-life occultists’ Agrippa and Flamel is going to know exactly what she’s doing when she brings in the centaurs.

    I also don’t think it was about the acceptability of rape. That horrid lady in pink was a blatant child-abuser, moreso in the books than on screen, and it’s a popular sentiment of those who have survived child abuse that these sorts of people deserve it. While it does an unfortunate job of further seeding the false idea you only have a choice of victim or bully in life, it does allow a satisfying catharsis to those people who suffered under the hands of Dolores’-like beings. This isn’t to say it’s right, or healthy – but it’s quite real.

  • http://dianarajchel.com Diana Rajchel

    If you look closely, the Potter series was never that innocent and progressively set aside “innocence” as the characters became very, very aware of the dangers of the world. While they were imaginary and metaphorical, the metaphors were quite present. It was clear from the beginning that Harry was raised in a household with emotional violence, and the physical violence only stopped when his dear old auntie and uncle thought he might have the power to fight back. Children’s books these days have abandoned their unhealthy Disney-erific sanitation in favor of some real honesty with kids about things that kids, even privileged western ones, actually have to see and deal with – regardless of their parents’ denail about it/insistence that it’s “just for kids.”

    Damn straight it was centaur rape. An author that takes the time to work in  the real-life occultists’ Agrippa and Flamel is going to know exactly what she’s doing when she brings in the centaurs.

    I also don’t think it was about the acceptability of rape. That horrid lady in pink was a blatant child-abuser, moreso in the books than on screen, and it’s a popular sentiment of those who have survived child abuse that these sorts of people deserve it. While it does an unfortunate job of further seeding the false idea you only have a choice of victim or bully in life, it does allow a satisfying catharsis to those people who suffered under the hands of Dolores’-like beings. This isn’t to say it’s right, or healthy – but it’s quite real.

  • http://blog.dianarajchel.com Diana Rajchel

    If you look closely, the Potter series was never that innocent and progressively set aside “innocence” as the characters became very, very aware of the dangers of the world. While they were imaginary and metaphorical, the metaphors were quite present. It was clear from the beginning that Harry was raised in a household with emotional violence, and the physical violence only stopped when his dear old auntie and uncle thought he might have the power to fight back. Children’s books these days have abandoned their unhealthy Disney-erific sanitation in favor of some real honesty with kids about things that kids, even privileged western ones, actually have to see and deal with – regardless of their parents’ denail about it/insistence that it’s “just for kids.”

    Damn straight it was centaur rape. An author that takes the time to work in  the real-life occultists’ Agrippa and Flamel is going to know exactly what she’s doing when she brings in the centaurs.

    I also don’t think it was about the acceptability of rape. That horrid lady in pink was a blatant child-abuser, moreso in the books than on screen, and it’s a popular sentiment of those who have survived child abuse that these sorts of people deserve it. While it does an unfortunate job of further seeding the false idea you only have a choice of victim or bully in life, it does allow a satisfying catharsis to those people who suffered under the hands of Dolores’-like beings. This isn’t to say it’s right, or healthy – but it’s quite real.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_J5WDMDBLKAPPSY6N3ZFBGRHU2M Bonnie

    I never thought Umbridge was raped. I thought she might have been “roughed up” a bit, treated crudely, temporarily enslaved. But, as for rape in the Pagan mythos, I’ve always interpreted it, as Aine also stated, that “rape” historically means “to abduct”. But, I have also interpreted it as a corruption of the original, underlying myths. For example, Kore’s original mythos did not involve Hades. It was a journey She made on Her Own. But, at some point, possibly through being conquered, the agrarian cultures came to recognize Sky Gods. In the mythos, the new Gods needed to be seen as more powerful than the original Earth Deitites. Patriarchal cultures conquering matriarchal cultures and the Goddesses could not be allowed to stand on Their Own. So, they were forcibly paired with the “appropriate” male Sky God and thus subjugated but not completely erased because the people would not give up their Ladies so easily. Look at the myth of Athena’s birth from this perspective – they could not take the Goddess of Wisdom, Strategy, Weaving, Mathematics and make Her over into a meek Divine housewife, but She could not be allowed to remain independent. So, Zeus “gives birth” to Her, though they could not erase Her, or weaken Her, they still attempted to make Her less. So, that is how I personally interpret the rape culture contained within our Pagan mythos.

    • Christa Landon

      Where exactly is this “original mythos” of Kore written?

      Feminist scholarship is ill-served by unsupported assertions. If you can support this claim, please do! If not, then label your “re-imagining” as just that. There’s nothing wrong with fiction, until it claims to be history.

      • http://twitter.com/ouranophobe Áine

        I recommend reading Spretnak’s _Lost Goddesses of Early Greece_ (mentioned above), as well as Marguerite Rigoglioso’s piece, “Persephone’s Sacred Lake and the Ancient Female Mystery Religion in the Womb of Sicily”.   That’d be a start.  I’ll try to dig up a more thorough bibliography when I’m at home.
         

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_J5WDMDBLKAPPSY6N3ZFBGRHU2M Bonnie

    I never thought Umbridge was raped. I thought she might have been “roughed up” a bit, treated crudely, temporarily enslaved. But, as for rape in the Pagan mythos, I’ve always interpreted it, as Aine also stated, that “rape” historically means “to abduct”. But, I have also interpreted it as a corruption of the original, underlying myths. For example, Kore’s original mythos did not involve Hades. It was a journey She made on Her Own. But, at some point, possibly through being conquered, the agrarian cultures came to recognize Sky Gods. In the mythos, the new Gods needed to be seen as more powerful than the original Earth Deitites. Patriarchal cultures conquering matriarchal cultures and the Goddesses could not be allowed to stand on Their Own. So, they were forcibly paired with the “appropriate” male Sky God and thus subjugated but not completely erased because the people would not give up their Ladies so easily. Look at the myth of Athena’s birth from this perspective – they could not take the Goddess of Wisdom, Strategy, Weaving, Mathematics and make Her over into a meek Divine housewife, but She could not be allowed to remain independent. So, Zeus “gives birth” to Her, though they could not erase Her, or weaken Her, they still attempted to make Her less. So, that is how I personally interpret the rape culture contained within our Pagan mythos.

    • Christa Landon

      Where exactly is this “original mythos” of Kore written?

      Feminist scholarship is ill-served by unsupported assertions. If you can support this claim, please do! If not, then label your “re-imagining” as just that. There’s nothing wrong with fiction, until it claims to be history.

      • http://twitter.com/ouranophobe Áine

        I recommend reading Spretnak’s _Lost Goddesses of Early Greece_ (mentioned above), as well as Marguerite Rigoglioso’s piece, “Persephone’s Sacred Lake and the Ancient Female Mystery Religion in the Womb of Sicily”.   That’d be a start.  I’ll try to dig up a more thorough bibliography when I’m at home.
         

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FCM62LRWJYSJZAWCXGUA62L7B4 nothing

    Star you are an angry person and it comes through your writing. You  have good points of view sometimes but mostly you seem to be a very unhappy person. Maybe you should reevaluate your life in general and make adjustments so you are a happy, whole person…sometimes its not liking your job or a ‘friend’ who has brought you down, something that can be walked away from…whatever it is you need a change.  To find rape in a children’s book is not just ridiculous but sad that you had to sink that low. I was raped years ago and its not something to be thrown around lightly.  I have several Pagan/Wiccan friends I had read this post and they all agreed with some of the comments that the good professor was scared $hitle$$ but raped? no, it’s a kids book and movie….. they also agreed that you are very unhappy Pagan lady. :(

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FCM62LRWJYSJZAWCXGUA62L7B4 nothing

    Star you are an angry person and it comes through your writing. You  have good points of view sometimes but mostly you seem to be a very unhappy person. Maybe you should reevaluate your life in general and make adjustments so you are a happy, whole person…sometimes its not liking your job or a ‘friend’ who has brought you down, something that can be walked away from…whatever it is you need a change.  To find rape in a children’s book is not just ridiculous but sad that you had to sink that low. I was raped years ago and its not something to be thrown around lightly.  I have several Pagan/Wiccan friends I had read this post and they all agreed with some of the comments that the good professor was scared $hitle$$ but raped? no, it’s a kids book and movie….. they also agreed that you are very unhappy Pagan lady. :(

  • http://credencedawg.wordpress.com/ Mo

    I can’t say that it ever occurred to me while reading the books that Umbridge was raped, it just never crossed my mind. I’m aware of the reputation of centaurs in mythology, but Harry Potter never struck me as having any deep mythological connections; it was a tail woven as a self referencing world, as children’s to adolescent fantasy fiction. So I suspect people are according a depth to the stories which really isn’t there.

    In terms of Paganism, what I find difficult to understand is the attachment to motifs of sacralized brutality around themes of human sacrifice, which I have picked up in parts of neopaganism repeatedly. I think people just get a kick out of it for some reason, like some kind of metaphorical jolly snuff religious theme. Never did get that, never will. 

  • http://credencedawg.wordpress.com/ Mo

    I can’t say that it ever occurred to me while reading the books that Umbridge was raped, it just never crossed my mind. I’m aware of the reputation of centaurs in mythology, but Harry Potter never struck me as having any deep mythological connections; it was a tail woven as a self referencing world, as children’s to adolescent fantasy fiction. So I suspect people are according a depth to the stories which really isn’t there.

    In terms of Paganism, what I find difficult to understand is the attachment to motifs of sacralized brutality around themes of human sacrifice, which I have picked up in parts of neopaganism repeatedly. I think people just get a kick out of it for some reason, like some kind of metaphorical jolly snuff religious theme. Never did get that, never will. 

  • Windweaver

    I don’t see any likelyhood of rape either… In fact I’m fairly sure that the centaurs in the series had far better taste than that. 

    Umbridge was a symbol of the worst that exists in the human animal. She was abusive, she was power hungry, and she was obviously highly prejudice. I suspect that all that happened to her was to be dragged through the forest, and held prisoner by creatures that she considered quite inferior to her. That that was more than sufficient to traumatize her.

    She really was quite a piece of work…

  • Windweaver

    I don’t see any likelyhood of rape either… In fact I’m fairly sure that the centaurs in the series had far better taste than that. 

    Umbridge was a symbol of the worst that exists in the human animal. She was abusive, she was power hungry, and she was obviously highly prejudice. I suspect that all that happened to her was to be dragged through the forest, and held prisoner by creatures that she considered quite inferior to her. That that was more than sufficient to traumatize her.

    She really was quite a piece of work…

  • Rua Lupa

    Why restrict yourselves to the myths of old? Why base your theology on them anyway? Sure learn them, but treat it like history, not something that you should do or celebrate in your daily lives. As neo-pagans, you are not restricted to the old myths. You can make your own myths and base your modern practices on them instead. You are free to do this and not have to in any way to approve of the happenings in the myths of old.

    Like that of genocides that have happened in our literal history, we don’t approve of them in any way, we learn from them, and don’t celebrate them even if it meant that we are the descendents that have benefited from those events. The myths of old should not be treated any differently.

  • Rua Lupa

    Why restrict yourselves to the myths of old? Why base your theology on them anyway? Sure learn them, but treat it like history, not something that you should do or celebrate in your daily lives. As neo-pagans, you are not restricted to the old myths. You can make your own myths and base your modern practices on them instead. You are free to do this and not have to in any way to approve of the happenings in the myths of old.

    Like that of genocides that have happened in our literal history, we don’t approve of them in any way, we learn from them, and don’t celebrate them even if it meant that we are the descendents that have benefited from those events. The myths of old should not be treated any differently.

  • Jdhortwort

    I understand how some people could come to the idea that centaurs might have sexually violated Umbridge and I know Rowlings seems to have included some double meanings in her text, I assumer for her amusement or for that of the adults reading her works.

    I interpret Umbridge as a powerful, abusive control freak – whatever motives she uses to justify her actions. It seems to me, the most traumatic thing that could happen to a person like that would be to find herself in a situation where she is controlled and contained by creatures more powerful than herself. Unable to have her way as she was accustomed, on top of having seen her former victims completely revolt at Hogwort, I’m sure she lost her little mind. No need for sexual violation. The complete loss of power and position would have been enough trauma.

  • Jdhortwort

    I understand how some people could come to the idea that centaurs might have sexually violated Umbridge and I know Rowlings seems to have included some double meanings in her text, I assumer for her amusement or for that of the adults reading her works.

    I interpret Umbridge as a powerful, abusive control freak – whatever motives she uses to justify her actions. It seems to me, the most traumatic thing that could happen to a person like that would be to find herself in a situation where she is controlled and contained by creatures more powerful than herself. Unable to have her way as she was accustomed, on top of having seen her former victims completely revolt at Hogwort, I’m sure she lost her little mind. No need for sexual violation. The complete loss of power and position would have been enough trauma.

  • kenneth

    I agree with the other posters in that we may well be reading too much into the Potter movie. Still, let’s assume it denotes rape for the sake of discussion. I don’t see that we have a problem to “resolve” as pagans today for the way ancient mythology portrayed rape. I think it’s much too simple to say that the ancient myths in any way “celebrated” rape. To have a meaningful discussion of the ancients, we would first need to come to some understanding of how rape, and other violence, was understood in the context of the times and the structure of how mythology relates truth.

     I am not that expert, and any who are would be most welcome in this thread. I can say with confidence that the ancients, and particularly the Greeks, had some very different ideas about the inherent worth and purpose of males and females and about who had what rights in relation to one another.  These are folks who were just not operating with the same software as the 21st Century feminist thinking that informs many of us today. Ancient pagan cultures had a lot of wisdom and beauty we can draw from, but if we look at them with a critical eye (as we should), we will find some things about them to be repugnant. They were also perfectly capable of just being dead wrong. They did some brilliant science that overshadowed later Christian cultures for centuries, but some of what they produced simply sucked, and set back progress for as many centuries in certain areas (ie their theory of infectious disease). We are not answerable for their actions but only for our own. 

  • kenneth

    I agree with the other posters in that we may well be reading too much into the Potter movie. Still, let’s assume it denotes rape for the sake of discussion. I don’t see that we have a problem to “resolve” as pagans today for the way ancient mythology portrayed rape. I think it’s much too simple to say that the ancient myths in any way “celebrated” rape. To have a meaningful discussion of the ancients, we would first need to come to some understanding of how rape, and other violence, was understood in the context of the times and the structure of how mythology relates truth.

     I am not that expert, and any who are would be most welcome in this thread. I can say with confidence that the ancients, and particularly the Greeks, had some very different ideas about the inherent worth and purpose of males and females and about who had what rights in relation to one another.  These are folks who were just not operating with the same software as the 21st Century feminist thinking that informs many of us today. Ancient pagan cultures had a lot of wisdom and beauty we can draw from, but if we look at them with a critical eye (as we should), we will find some things about them to be repugnant. They were also perfectly capable of just being dead wrong. They did some brilliant science that overshadowed later Christian cultures for centuries, but some of what they produced simply sucked, and set back progress for as many centuries in certain areas (ie their theory of infectious disease). We are not answerable for their actions but only for our own. 

  • Anonymous

    #nothing, why the ad hominem argument? personal attacks have no place in a reasoned discussion of the probability of j.k.rowlings’ actual intent in writing what is, after all, children’s fiction. i am sorry that you were raped, but if i were to get personal and say that this colors your view of life and literature and that you must be an unhappy person, i believe you would be insulted, and have a right to be. so why bash star over her views?

  • veracityweatherwax

    #nothing, why the ad hominem argument? personal attacks have no place in a reasoned discussion of the probability of j.k.rowlings’ actual intent in writing what is, after all, children’s fiction. i am sorry that you were raped, but if i were to get personal and say that this colors your view of life and literature and that you must be an unhappy person, i believe you would be insulted, and have a right to be. so why bash star over her views?

  • http://twitter.com/melissa_thinks Melissa Goerke

    I have to say that when I read it in the book, rape, was my first thought, but I dismissed it thinking that Rowling would not do that.  As for ancient myths, I wonder if women were perceived so differently in ancient times that rape had a different connotation.  Women were often taken in conquest as new wives and one can assume that over time some may have come to love their conquerors while others continued to hate and dream of revenge. They just didn’t have the power that we have today.  So looking at myths that reference rape from a our modern point of view it is hard to reconcile, but thousands of years ago I think people would have had different attitudes.  I am not saying that those attitudes are acceptable, just real.  Just like human sacrifice is no longer something we can accept, but it did happen and was accepted by cultures in the past.  

  • http://twitter.com/melissa_thinks Melissa Goerke

    I have to say that when I read it in the book, rape, was my first thought, but I dismissed it thinking that Rowling would not do that.  As for ancient myths, I wonder if women were perceived so differently in ancient times that rape had a different connotation.  Women were often taken in conquest as new wives and one can assume that over time some may have come to love their conquerors while others continued to hate and dream of revenge. They just didn’t have the power that we have today.  So looking at myths that reference rape from a our modern point of view it is hard to reconcile, but thousands of years ago I think people would have had different attitudes.  I am not saying that those attitudes are acceptable, just real.  Just like human sacrifice is no longer something we can accept, but it did happen and was accepted by cultures in the past.  

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    Like many here, I have to say that I never saw it that way.  (Though my memory of that book is the least good of all of them, because it was my least favorite of them…it could have done with trimming 200-300 pages and lost nothing in the process.)

    The centaurs in the Harry Potter universe are portrayed as “noble savages,” i.e. naturally intelligent and sensitive beings who, in many respects, are “more civilized” than humans are.  While there are many objections to be made about the “noble savage” trope throughout literature and history, the Greeks did it too in relation to certain barbarian tribes, in order to show up problems they saw in their own culture by saying “even the barbarians do this better than we do; can’t we do better, since we’re GREEKS after all?”  So, I really can’t buy for a moment that the centaurs would have raped Umbridge, or that Rowling would have suggested such.  They may not even have run her through the forest to scare her; they may have just brought her to their lair, tied her up, and left her there facing the wall, deaf to her demands of “Release me at once, you savages!”

    As far as the question of rape in ancient Greek myths and such is concerned, that does bother me a great deal, and it’s something I’ve written a piece on for the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Persephone devotional anthology.  What everyone above is missing in the whole discussion of ancient rape stories is that “abduct” in the ancient world always implied rape.  There’s a legal recognition in many cultures, and a mythic in others–including Greek, Indian, Roman, and Irish–of a thing called “marriage by abduction,” which is something that lawless youthful warrior bands often did, and was their only option as far as marriages were concerned, which amounted to carrying away their brides without the permission of their families or society, and then having sex with them.  While the woman in question may or may not have consented to, or in some cases could even have instigated, such actions, the society-at-large considered it rape because it violated their rights to consenting to and approving such a union; likely as not, there was no consent on the part of society or the woman in question.  A motive for kidnapping to this very day is not that the kidnappers want to get a ransom out of someone, it’s for the purposes of sexual assault.  So, “abduction” and “rape” really are quite synonymous in these ancient stories.  Whether it is always a violation of the woman’s consent or not isn’t always the same as our modern views would happen to be, as oftentimes the woman’s consent is subordinated to that of her family or settled, civil society.  Trying to explain away these matters as “Well, Persephone really wanted it” or “Demeter was too over-bearing” is to be a rape apologist, and I am amazed at how many women in modern paganism and polytheism are the first ones with explanations like that.

    • Soliwo

      I quite agree with your last statement. At the moment I am researching Persephone and I have come across a lot people who ignore the entire myth and turn the entire thing into a romantic love story. Historical explanation does not always justification of rape however, even if peoples of the past are excused of some of their bad behaviour. Most of the people who seem to justify rape, really don’t mean to, 

      I tend to view the story more as a … rise through adversity, being victimised but refusing to stay so. Making the best of it … implies that a real wrong has occurred in the first place. No denial, just acceptance. I think that Demeter might have been over-bearing (in the sense that any
      mother is sometimes), but that doesn’t change anything about what Hades
      did. I think it is very important that you say that even according to the standards of the ancient Greeks, this was off-limits. We do not even have to impose our modern morality on the ancients (not that there is anything wrong with that outside academic research, but one might be accused of such a thing).

      This does not mean I necessarily disagree with interpreting the Umbridge-thing this way. A book ends up being more than what the author has written down. One can fill in the blanks freely. Just as Dumbeldore’s homosexuality is not explicit in the book. It is not only the author who can add to the story. I think it can be an interesting sub plot.Centaurs are not constantly portrayed as the noble savage I think. It has been explained that they have grown quite violent in their bitterness, or does my memory let me down here?

      • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

        “The best of a bad situation” narrative in relation to Persephone is, sadly, about as good as one can read it without doing violence to the original narrative.  While re-tellings are certainly possible for more modern sensibilities, these “more empowered” readings that then try and pass themselves off as “more true” or “what was originally intended, pre-patriarchy” and the like just strike me as ridiculous a lot of the time.  So, yes, I totally agree with you here!

        As far as the centaurs in Harry Potter go, I do recall that they were even more resentful of humans in a variety of ways as time went on, which is why Firenze ended up becoming a kind of outcast among them, because he was too interested in having peaceful relations with them.  (Which sort of reminds me of how some apologists and “assimilationists” in certain political and social movements get treated…)  I think they were to be feared, as a result, and one was to be cautious with them, but I don’t recall that there was talk of them being more inclined to violence in their dealings with humans.  I may be wrong on that, however; I’m sure they’d not hesitate to lay the smack-down on someone who actually needed it/deserved it, or was actively seeking it, and even though Umbridge sort of falls into that category, at the same time I can’t see them raping her, or of Rowling having that happen to a character and not saying something about it.

    • kenneth

      I think we can probably all agree that rape is rape, but I think we’re also creating a false dilemma for ourselves here. We seem to be telling ourselves that we either have to euphamize or sanitize the occurrence of rape in the old myths or we have to wrestle with the angst of being “rape culture enablers.” Roadapples!  This trap only snares those who take a literalist approach to mythology, like the evangelicals who defend the absurdity of a 6,000-year old universe.  The fact that the myths include rape committed by the gods is not a moral conundrum for us as pagans unless you read these myths as documentary biographies of anthropomorphic beings who were supposed to model perfect sinless virtue to humanity.

       They were nothing of the sort. The gods of most ancient myths were beings of immense wisdom and power, but also clearly subject to the same passions and failings as humans. Throughout all these myths are some powerful and deep lessons embedded in seemingly simple (and sordid) tales. We see that time and again, even the gods are called to account and that dishonor always has its price. We see that justice can prevail, and that right action and boldness and sheer persistence can overcome raw power.

       We also find in myths such as Persephone some profound lessons about the cycles of life and death and light and darkness. These concepts are at the very heart of our pagan understanding of the world. For our Mabon this year, we used this very myth of Persephone to impart that idea to our group of celebrants: the decline of light and visible life is not the end of all things, it’s part of the natural cycle of life.  That lesson comes into even sharper focus at Samhain. We mourn our dead, but we feast with them and wish them well on their journeys. We consider that death is a doorway into life and that both processes are needed to keep the flywheel of creation in balance and turning, so to speak. 

      There were, of course, unsavory and very un-progressive things like misogyny in the cultures of the ancients, and these no doubt colored their religion as well. But as I say before, we’re not them and we have no need to defend them as people.  We also need not castigate ourselves for employing and even enjoying the old myths, nor for being called to the same gods as our ancestors knew. 

      • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

        Certainly, this is a very excellent point.

        I think one of the knee-jerk responses to the rape situation, however, does occur because of the way such things are handled in religions that don’t consider their mythologies to be mythical, and instead do consider them literal.  The story of Sodom and the related story of Gibeah in the Hebrew Bible, and the way these are totally brushed over in both Jewish and Christian contexts (i.e. the fact that women are given as alternative options for crowds of men who want to rape male visitors to their town) is really quite horrific, and are “texts of terror,” as feminist theologians say.

        No matter how non-literal our take on ancient mythologies happens to be, the fact that they do use these images and these metaphors is something that we have to be aware of, and we feel–in the interests of full transparency and clarity–should be described as reflective of their historical contexts and their understandings of personhood, consent, and so on, which no longer apply or with which we no longer agree.  Certainly, we can find meaning in the stories as they are written, and we can re-envision them in ways that seem more empowering or positive in the meantime, but making clear that these are actions on the part of deities that are not laudable and should not be imitated by humans is very important meanwhile.  “Kids, don’t try this at home” might be the overall message of such critiques and caveats today, and I think that’s a worthwhile message to give.  Since the gods are not above moral evaluation or critique, then this should be something about which we can have a dialogue with the tradition over without worrying about our standing with them as a result.

        • kenneth

          Indeed. We ought to avoid the Christian-style missionary slogan approach, at the very least. (“What would Hades do?)

    • Aion2001

      I think you ought to give your authority for the asserting that abduction always implied “rape”,  meaning non-consensual sexual relations.  I have read that in Sparta and in Crete there was institutionalized abduction which was in fact consensual.  A further difficulty resides in the fact that “rape” in English could mean abduction or other violation other than sexual–a famous and incontrovertible instance is Alexander Pope’s poem “The Rape of the Lock.”  And  the German word for “rape,” entfuhrung,  is the same as for “abduction” as rescue!  As in Mozart’s opera, “The ‘Abduction’ from the Seraglio,” where the abduction is the rescue of the heroine by her fiancé.

      • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

        In Sparta and Crete, what you may be referring to is the situation in which young men being initiated into manhood were abducted and initiated into adulthood as well as sexuality by other men in the wilderness, and if the abductor forced sex on the abductee, there were negative repercussions.  That certainly did occur, but that’s quite a bit different to abduction of women.

        Look into the Hittite Laws, Old Irish law (Fergus Kelly’s Guide to Early Irish Law, for example), and other such legal sources on these matters in the ancient world.  In Greece, a woman who was raped could either choose to marry her rapist, or he could be put to death.  In India, the rakshasa (“demon”) wedding was a marriage by abduction/rape, and the ultimate exemplary from this in mythology was Ravana’s abduction of Sita from Rama in the Ramayana.  Even though Sita was completely chaste throughout this encounter, despite Ravana’s repeated attempts to overcome her resolve, Rama still forced her into a test of chastity when she was recovered, and ultimately he left her because people were murmuring about the possibility of her chastity having been compromised while she was in Ravana’s imprisonment.

        While the meanings and associations of words certainly do vary between different cultures, many of the cultures just mentioned do have a very close connection between “kidnapping” and “rape.”  Just because some may not doesn’t mean that all do not.

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    Like many here, I have to say that I never saw it that way.  (Though my memory of that book is the least good of all of them, because it was my least favorite of them…it could have done with trimming 200-300 pages and lost nothing in the process.)

    The centaurs in the Harry Potter universe are portrayed as “noble savages,” i.e. naturally intelligent and sensitive beings who, in many respects, are “more civilized” than humans are.  While there are many objections to be made about the “noble savage” trope throughout literature and history, the Greeks did it too in relation to certain barbarian tribes, in order to show up problems they saw in their own culture by saying “even the barbarians do this better than we do; can’t we do better, since we’re GREEKS after all?”  So, I really can’t buy for a moment that the centaurs would have raped Umbridge, or that Rowling would have suggested such.  They may not even have run her through the forest to scare her; they may have just brought her to their lair, tied her up, and left her there facing the wall, deaf to her demands of “Release me at once, you savages!”

    As far as the question of rape in ancient Greek myths and such is concerned, that does bother me a great deal, and it’s something I’ve written a piece on for the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Persephone devotional anthology.  What everyone above is missing in the whole discussion of ancient rape stories is that “abduct” in the ancient world always implied rape.  There’s a legal recognition in many cultures, and a mythic in others–including Greek, Indian, Roman, and Irish–of a thing called “marriage by abduction,” which is something that lawless youthful warrior bands often did, and was their only option as far as marriages were concerned, which amounted to carrying away their brides without the permission of their families or society, and then having sex with them.  While the woman in question may or may not have consented to, or in some cases could even have instigated, such actions, the society-at-large considered it rape because it violated their rights to consenting to and approving such a union; likely as not, there was no consent on the part of society or the woman in question.  A motive for kidnapping to this very day is not that the kidnappers want to get a ransom out of someone, it’s for the purposes of sexual assault.  So, “abduction” and “rape” really are quite synonymous in these ancient stories.  Whether it is always a violation of the woman’s consent or not isn’t always the same as our modern views would happen to be, as oftentimes the woman’s consent is subordinated to that of her family or settled, civil society.  Trying to explain away these matters as “Well, Persephone really wanted it” or “Demeter was too over-bearing” is to be a rape apologist, and I am amazed at how many women in modern paganism and polytheism are the first ones with explanations like that.

    • Soliwo

      I quite agree with your last statement. At the moment I am researching Persephone and I have come across a lot people who ignore the entire myth and turn the entire thing into a romantic love story. Historical explanation does not always justification of rape however, even if peoples of the past are excused of some of their bad behaviour. Most of the people who seem to justify rape, really don’t mean to, 

      I tend to view the story more as a … rise through adversity, being victimised but refusing to stay so. Making the best of it … implies that a real wrong has occurred in the first place. No denial, just acceptance. I think that Demeter might have been over-bearing (in the sense that any
      mother is sometimes), but that doesn’t change anything about what Hades
      did. I think it is very important that you say that even according to the standards of the ancient Greeks, this was off-limits. We do not even have to impose our modern morality on the ancients (not that there is anything wrong with that outside academic research, but one might be accused of such a thing).

      This does not mean I necessarily disagree with interpreting the Umbridge-thing this way. A book ends up being more than what the author has written down. One can fill in the blanks freely. Just as Dumbeldore’s homosexuality is not explicit in the book. It is not only the author who can add to the story. I think it can be an interesting sub plot.Centaurs are not constantly portrayed as the noble savage I think. It has been explained that they have grown quite violent in their bitterness, or does my memory let me down here?

      • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

        “The best of a bad situation” narrative in relation to Persephone is, sadly, about as good as one can read it without doing violence to the original narrative.  While re-tellings are certainly possible for more modern sensibilities, these “more empowered” readings that then try and pass themselves off as “more true” or “what was originally intended, pre-patriarchy” and the like just strike me as ridiculous a lot of the time.  So, yes, I totally agree with you here!

        As far as the centaurs in Harry Potter go, I do recall that they were even more resentful of humans in a variety of ways as time went on, which is why Firenze ended up becoming a kind of outcast among them, because he was too interested in having peaceful relations with them.  (Which sort of reminds me of how some apologists and “assimilationists” in certain political and social movements get treated…)  I think they were to be feared, as a result, and one was to be cautious with them, but I don’t recall that there was talk of them being more inclined to violence in their dealings with humans.  I may be wrong on that, however; I’m sure they’d not hesitate to lay the smack-down on someone who actually needed it/deserved it, or was actively seeking it, and even though Umbridge sort of falls into that category, at the same time I can’t see them raping her, or of Rowling having that happen to a character and not saying something about it.

    • kenneth

      I think we can probably all agree that rape is rape, but I think we’re also creating a false dilemma for ourselves here. We seem to be telling ourselves that we either have to euphamize or sanitize the occurrence of rape in the old myths or we have to wrestle with the angst of being “rape culture enablers.” Roadapples!  This trap only snares those who take a literalist approach to mythology, like the evangelicals who defend the absurdity of a 6,000-year old universe.  The fact that the myths include rape committed by the gods is not a moral conundrum for us as pagans unless you read these myths as documentary biographies of anthropomorphic beings who were supposed to model perfect sinless virtue to humanity.

       They were nothing of the sort. The gods of most ancient myths were beings of immense wisdom and power, but also clearly subject to the same passions and failings as humans. Throughout all these myths are some powerful and deep lessons embedded in seemingly simple (and sordid) tales. We see that time and again, even the gods are called to account and that dishonor always has its price. We see that justice can prevail, and that right action and boldness and sheer persistence can overcome raw power.

       We also find in myths such as Persephone some profound lessons about the cycles of life and death and light and darkness. These concepts are at the very heart of our pagan understanding of the world. For our Mabon this year, we used this very myth of Persephone to impart that idea to our group of celebrants: the decline of light and visible life is not the end of all things, it’s part of the natural cycle of life.  That lesson comes into even sharper focus at Samhain. We mourn our dead, but we feast with them and wish them well on their journeys. We consider that death is a doorway into life and that both processes are needed to keep the flywheel of creation in balance and turning, so to speak. 

      There were, of course, unsavory and very un-progressive things like misogyny in the cultures of the ancients, and these no doubt colored their religion as well. But as I say before, we’re not them and we have no need to defend them as people.  We also need not castigate ourselves for employing and even enjoying the old myths, nor for being called to the same gods as our ancestors knew. 

      • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

        Certainly, this is a very excellent point.

        I think one of the knee-jerk responses to the rape situation, however, does occur because of the way such things are handled in religions that don’t consider their mythologies to be mythical, and instead do consider them literal.  The story of Sodom and the related story of Gibeah in the Hebrew Bible, and the way these are totally brushed over in both Jewish and Christian contexts (i.e. the fact that women are given as alternative options for crowds of men who want to rape male visitors to their town) is really quite horrific, and are “texts of terror,” as feminist theologians say.

        No matter how non-literal our take on ancient mythologies happens to be, the fact that they do use these images and these metaphors is something that we have to be aware of, and we feel–in the interests of full transparency and clarity–should be described as reflective of their historical contexts and their understandings of personhood, consent, and so on, which no longer apply or with which we no longer agree.  Certainly, we can find meaning in the stories as they are written, and we can re-envision them in ways that seem more empowering or positive in the meantime, but making clear that these are actions on the part of deities that are not laudable and should not be imitated by humans is very important meanwhile.  “Kids, don’t try this at home” might be the overall message of such critiques and caveats today, and I think that’s a worthwhile message to give.  Since the gods are not above moral evaluation or critique, then this should be something about which we can have a dialogue with the tradition over without worrying about our standing with them as a result.

        • kenneth

          Indeed. We ought to avoid the Christian-style missionary slogan approach, at the very least. (“What would Hades do?)

    • Aion2001

      I think you ought to give your authority for the asserting that abduction always implied “rape”,  meaning non-consensual sexual relations.  I have read that in Sparta and in Crete there was institutionalized abduction which was in fact consensual.  A further difficulty resides in the fact that “rape” in English could mean abduction or other violation other than sexual–a famous and incontrovertible instance is Alexander Pope’s poem “The Rape of the Lock.”  And  the German word for “rape,” entfuhrung,  is the same as for “abduction” as rescue!  As in Mozart’s opera, “The ‘Abduction’ from the Seraglio,” where the abduction is the rescue of the heroine by her fiancé.

      • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

        In Sparta and Crete, what you may be referring to is the situation in which young men being initiated into manhood were abducted and initiated into adulthood as well as sexuality by other men in the wilderness, and if the abductor forced sex on the abductee, there were negative repercussions.  That certainly did occur, but that’s quite a bit different to abduction of women.

        Look into the Hittite Laws, Old Irish law (Fergus Kelly’s Guide to Early Irish Law, for example), and other such legal sources on these matters in the ancient world.  In Greece, a woman who was raped could either choose to marry her rapist, or he could be put to death.  In India, the rakshasa (“demon”) wedding was a marriage by abduction/rape, and the ultimate exemplary from this in mythology was Ravana’s abduction of Sita from Rama in the Ramayana.  Even though Sita was completely chaste throughout this encounter, despite Ravana’s repeated attempts to overcome her resolve, Rama still forced her into a test of chastity when she was recovered, and ultimately he left her because people were murmuring about the possibility of her chastity having been compromised while she was in Ravana’s imprisonment.

        While the meanings and associations of words certainly do vary between different cultures, many of the cultures just mentioned do have a very close connection between “kidnapping” and “rape.”  Just because some may not doesn’t mean that all do not.

  • guest

    i haven’t seen the movies, so don’t know how they portrayed these things; however, in the books, although i didn’t immediately think “rape”, given the mythology i think it’s highly likely Umbridge was raped. Rowling has so much mythology woven into the books, and it’s all highly referential – she knows exactly what conclusions can be brought, from the innocent lupin/werewolf to the centaurs – I think Rowling was certainly aware of centaur rape, and probably meant this. Harry Potter is a children’s series, but like many good children’s books/program, when you read them again as an adult they have much more, and different, meaning to them. I think it’s also worth noting that Rowling’s centaurs were very similar to those of ancient mythology – I forget the names, but most of the centaurs refused to leave the forest and were seen as very brutish, with the noted exception of one that was very civilised and befriended harry, ron and hermione, and explained a lot about centaurs in particular to them – again, similar to old mythology.

  • guest

    i haven’t seen the movies, so don’t know how they portrayed these things; however, in the books, although i didn’t immediately think “rape”, given the mythology i think it’s highly likely Umbridge was raped. Rowling has so much mythology woven into the books, and it’s all highly referential – she knows exactly what conclusions can be brought, from the innocent lupin/werewolf to the centaurs – I think Rowling was certainly aware of centaur rape, and probably meant this. Harry Potter is a children’s series, but like many good children’s books/program, when you read them again as an adult they have much more, and different, meaning to them. I think it’s also worth noting that Rowling’s centaurs were very similar to those of ancient mythology – I forget the names, but most of the centaurs refused to leave the forest and were seen as very brutish, with the noted exception of one that was very civilised and befriended harry, ron and hermione, and explained a lot about centaurs in particular to them – again, similar to old mythology.

    • http://www.facebook.com/guadalupe.odiard Guadalupe Odiard

      As far as I remember Potterverse centaurs were wise beings who spent long hours analizing the stars and had great knowledge of astopnomy and astrology. They considered themselves to be more civil than humans and were quite refined. The only brutish thing you could percieve would be the fact that they lived in the wilderness but then that’s not “brutish”, that’s another way of living.  I think that Potterverse centaurs felt nothing close to sexual attraction to humans (think of Parvati and Lavender trying unsucessfully to seduce Firenze). 
      I also disagree with the notion of punishment of evil people along the series that the author of this article mentioned. I don’t think it was stated that Evil people “deserve” death. They deserve fair trials. That is said explicitly when the lead characters critizice Barty Crouch, when Harry stops Sirius from killing Pettigrew. Evil characters that die die in battle or in duels, and that is unfortunate, but they certainly wouldn’t have been killed if they weren’t attacking people to impose a dictatorship
      . I don’t think that Hermione or Harry would mock a rape victim no matter how bad she was, and I don’t think Rowling would write that. Because that  wouldn’t make sense with the whole point of the series. 


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