Knowing I can control the passions, which are part of the human condition, has given me a guide to heal my soul. I never realized that I, a human being, had any control over my soul. I thought that was “God’s job.” From childhood to adulthood I was given so many mixed messages about right and wrong and good and evil and “sin.”
Learning about these eight passions in the course The Theology of Harry Potter has been one of those aha moments for me. I know that in my experiences, giving into some of the passions has made my life hell at times.
The passions are ontological, in other words they focus on one’s being. Passions are about changing the internal. If one passion gets out of control, all may begin to disintegrate. We have the choice to control the passions, and we can do this with our thoughts. “How we think influences our behavior and our quality of life. In Evagrius’ work The Praktikos, he says we may not possess the power to ward off the disturbance of wrongly directed thoughts, but we can decide whether or not these passions ‘stir up our passions.’ We are not simply at the mercy of our impulses.”
What are the passions?
1. gluttony (excess food or drink)
2. lust (fornication or craving for physical gratification)
3. acedia (self absorbed/focusing on lack. Life is always greener on the other side)
4. pride (putting the self above others)
5. avarice (love of money, clinging to things)
7. vainglory or boastfulness (wanting praise or acknowledgement)
In Plato’s Phaedrus, a chariot driver has two horses pulling his chariot. One horse has good impulses; one has wild impulses. If the wild horse is allowed to go where it wants to go, the driver will not get where he needs to go. If I am controlled by the passions, I will not go down the path that leads me to be all that I can be.
In Harry Potter
1. Gluttony: Draco Malfoy and his cronies Crabb and Goyle pig out at the Christmas feast. They greedily eat the chocolate cupcakes laced with Polyjuice. Ron has gluttonous desires. Dudley obviously is a slave to food. John Cassian, an early monastic writer, says that unless one can reign in one’s overindulgence with food and one’s bodily desires, he cannot engage in more serious internal struggles. Gluttony forces the attention on oneself rather than others. Ron was more attentive to his plate rather than those who prepared it for him.
2. Lust: The second bodily passion is lust. The craving for physical pleasure is natural but if not channeled properly or is permitted to dominate one’s thoughts and behaviors, it can fracture the soul. Once again to give into these impulses is to force attention on one’s self. The concern is for gratification and not for others. In Harry Potter, Ron lusts for Lavender Brown. The lust causes anger between him and his sister Ginny who arouses his jealousy when she says Herminone snogged Viktor Krum. One passion out of control leads to others.
3. Acedia: When one feels that life is a continuous, never-ending drudgery to be endured. This causes one to become self absorbed and focused on one‘s lack of physical and emotional needs and desires. Ron falls into this when he abandons Harry and Hermione who are searching for the Horcruxes.
4. pride: Evagrius calls pride the most damaging fall for the soul. Cassian refers to pride as “a most savage beast.” Pride is an exaltation of one’s self above others and ultimately above God. Pride distorts our very humanity and brings dis-ease to the soul. Ron permits pride to take over when he embellishes the story of rescuing Gabrielle until Hermione squashes his self indulgence.
5. Avarice: the desire to have more than is necessary for life. This seems to have originated from fear of the future according to Evagrius. Our fear of old age, infirmity, inability to do manual labor. Clinging to things creates a false security. Again if we hold onto things so closely, we do not freely share with others. In Harry Potter’s Order of the Phoenix, Vernon dangerously clings to his material possessions almost costing his family their lives.
6. Anger: Evagrius describes anger as the most fierce passion. The fifth book of Harry Potter speaks volumes of anger: when few people believe Harry’s story that Voldemort has returned, little things start setting him off and he loses rationality and makes an attempt to rescue his godfather. Bellatrix kills Sirius and in reaction Harry attempts a curse on her.
7. Vainglory: One does everything for praise or acknowledgement. Ron, feeling overshadowed by his brothers and by Harry, constantly craves to be recognized for his accomplishments. Evagrius calls vainglory a hunt for the praise of men.
8. Sadness: Sadness often follows anger as when Ron gets angry with Harry about following the Horcruxes. He felt Harry and Hermione were making plans behind his back and does not go with them. He experiences extreme sadness and dejection and reaches a new low. Cassian believes sadness eats away at the soul. It also pulls us into ourselves not leaving room for others.