Why Voldemort Won’t Just Die
Already: What Wizards Can
Teach Us about Personal Identity
JASON T. EBERL
When Lord Voldemort recounts what happened to him the night he killed Lily and James Potter, but failed to kill their son Harry, he describes himself as having been painfully “ripped” from his body and thereafter existing as “less than spirit, less than the meanest ghost” (GF, p. 653). Despite the loss of his body, Voldemort survives his first encounter with Harry Potter and continues to exist in one of two ways: either as an immaterial spirit, or by possessing the body of an animal or another person.
Voldemort is not the only wizard who is capable of existing apart from the typical bodily fashion. Some wizards survive their body’s death as ghosts or poltergeists; for example, Hogwarts Professor Binns, who “had simply got up to teach one day and left his body behind him in an armchair in front of the staff room fire” (CS, p. 148), or Nearly Headless Nick. In addition to disembodiment, wizards can—with the help of certain spells, potions, and magical devices—move their bodies nearly instantaneously between distant places (teletransportation) or change their appearance into animals or other persons (transfiguration).
Many of us Muggles who read J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books also believe that we may survive the death of our bodies, or experience periods of disembodied existence in some form or fashion while alive. Some of us believe that we may survive death in a different type of body, perhaps the body of an animal, or without a body at all. This possibility raises several questions concerning what philosophers refer to as personal identity.