Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Finding your Patronus

No, this isn't a clickity-quiz to assign a random animal to you. This is how to cast a real Patronus.
(The main idea for this post was in response to a question about finding out what form one's patronus would take, if one were in the Potterverse. I, as usual, went for a deeper response.)

Also, I think it's unlikely that any ghostly white misty shield or animal spirit thing will manifest. Let me know if it does for you, I wanna know!

J. K. Rowling is refreshingly open about how the dementors are a symbol of her own struggle with depression. It should also be noted that one person's experience with depression, or any mental illness, is theirs and theirs alone and ma have little to do with any others' experiences. That being said, there's sound research that echoes Rowling's symbolic defensive spell, the Patronus Charm. The charm is not an attack, and it can't really defeat a dementor, let alone kill one. But it can give you the space you need to survive a dementor attack. Scientifically, depression is far more than simple sadness but instead a complex system of thought structures and chemical imbalances that are very difficult to even identify, let alone unravel. Depression takes on a form of its own, separate from an particular trauma that might have triggered its beginning, and for many people there isn't an specific trauma - yet they are depressed nonetheless. Visualizing one's depression as a dark creature lurking invisibly to pounce and drag you down is terrifying and not usually recommended, however, it is an illustration of how living with chronic depression can feel: you never know when something will just head-kick you right back into the darkness and despair, like you'll never be happy again.
The Patronus Charm, or in science-speak a mindfulness technique for re-anchoring yourself in reality by adjusting your brain chemicals and overriding your brain's active thought processing, can hold off an oncoming storm, or when it can't, it can help to keep you from getting swept entirely away in one. It's not fool proof, of course - you have to 'cast' it before you get swept away (as we see happen to Harry several times), and you have to hold onto it like a climber clinging to a root after falling off the cliff! This takes practice, and forgiveness for when you don't manage to do it. It also might not be the right thing for you in your real-world life with your real-world brain. And it's no substitute for actually attacking the dementors in your life. You do need to actually grieve, or to process what happened to you, or otherwise make peaceful or strong those places in your life that are vulnerable to imbalance. This might require expert therapy, medication, or not, but it will require friends and support no matter what. The Patronus Charm is one tool to keep you alive and in control long enough to actually fight those battles on your feet.

A person's patronus takes a form that arises from the source of joy or happiness used by the mage to cast it. Harry's is a stag for his father and the little he knew of him. Snape's is a doe for Lily, the source of the only time he felt truly happy (even tainted by the falling out). It's so personal that we don't know the sources for most of the characters who we see casting patronuses.

This is different from a spirit animal, which takes its form from the shape of your destiny or your truest self (depending on which tradition you use as your model!)

I suggest that you do some soul searching and figure out a moment of joy from which to anchor your spell. Then, once you have that, work on meditation using that memory as a focus. Try first to just dwell in that memory, experience it anew, and fill yourself with those feelings. Do this daily (or as often as you can) at least for a little while, until you can draw on that nugget of joy easily. This is casting the patronus in its basic form, a shield against the things in life which try to suck your soul and drag you down into depression.

If, somewhere in all that process, a concrete form arises for you, great! If not, and if you find that it matters to you, you can try to find a animate symbol of that nugget of joy that can carry some of that power for you.