Many of the ideas or objects in J.K. Rowling's books have roots in the myths of many countries, for instance, phoenixes, banshees, and hippogriffs. However, my search (admittedly cursory) for horcrux found nothing. Rowling seems to have made the name up from the Latin, horrere - to bristle, dread, shudder- from which we get the words horror and abhorrent and from the Latin cruc or crux - cross or torture - from which we get the word crucify .

WARNING: SPOILER! If you have not yet finished the sixth Harry Potter book, then read no further!

Professor Slughorn, the potions master at Hogwarts - both during the time of Tom Riddle and during Harry’s sixth year - explains to Tom that a horcrux is an object in which one stores part of one’s soul. First you have to split your soul, and the way you split your soul is by murdering someone. So horcruxes are very dark objects. However, it is because he had part of his soul stored outside his body that Voldemort was able to survive when his curse against Harry rebounded upon him in Book 1.

Voldemort decided that if one horcrux was good, then more would be even better. Since seven is the most magically powerful number, Voldemort decided to split his soul into seven parts. Six of the parts went into horcruxes and the seventh part remains within Voldemort’s body. It turns out that one of the horcruxes was the diary which Harry had to deal with in Book 2, and another was a ring, handed down in Voldemort’s family from Salazar Slytherin. Harry destroyed the power of the diary and Dumbledore destroyed the power of the ring, leaving four more horcruxes which must be found and destroyed before Voldemort can actually be killed. Dumbledore believed that the other horcruxes were:

  • a locket - also a Slytherin legacy
  • a golden cup - an heirloom of Hufflepuff. Voldemort stole the locket and cup from a witch and then murdered her
  • an unknown item - but perhaps an heirloom of either Ravenclaw or Gryffindor
  • Nagini - the huge snake that Voldemort keeps near him