Pottermania shows little sign of abating, as a quick trip to London last week confirmed to me. At Luton and Gatwick airports, Waterloo and London Bridge railways stations, Potter books and banners were omnipresent. Even in the staid banking district, a Harry-type figure painted on display windows offered magical interest rates.
The fifth Potter book was released this summer – mid-summer, to be precise… or midnight at midsummer, to be even more precise. I happened to be on a flight to South Africa on that night, and the young woman sitting next to me was devouring her newly-purchased copy through most of the flight.
The volumes are getting thicker and thicker – from 300 pages in volume one to nearly 900 pages in the last one. And some say they’re getting darker and darker.
So, after five volumes and two films (or is it three?), how should we assess this amazing phenomenon that has sold over 100 million copies to child and adult alike, in 55 different languages, grossing €350 million? In such far-flung corners of Europe as Bosnia, Belarus and the Faroe Islands, I’ve seen the HP influence among young and old. Enrolments in traditional English boarding schools, declining steadily for years, have taken a major upturn due to ‘the Harry Potter factor’.
Three years ago I wrote an article entitled Harry Potter and the future of the west, published in English, Dutch and German. My basic premise was that the overwhelming interest in this character is not only due to the clever plots, captivating tension and character portrayals, but also to a reawakened interest in the supernatural, starved by decades of rationalistic ‘muggledom’.
Opinion among Christians however is divided as to whether or not Harry is a healthy factor in this revival. Some Christian leaders have joined children, booksellers, publishers, and educationalists worldwide, (not to mention witches and occultists), in welcoming the stories of this adolescent orphan adopted by unkind relatives, and who discovers his magical skills at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
TIME magazine listed Harry’s creator, J.K.Rowling, among 36 chosen European heroes. A Reader’s Digest article offered an endearing profile of the former single mother who used to scrape by on welfare and who is now one of the world’s richest and most famous women. Some academics however are far from happy. Professor Bloom of Yale University decries the literary value of the books, and Jeanette Bristow, writing in the Dutch NRC Handelsblad, calls the Potter books mere candy for the brain, offering escapism into Potterdom rather than a vision for society.
Space doesn’t permit an in-depth analysis here but let me just address the following argument endorsing Harry’s world:
“The world of magic is a fantasy world used effectively by Christian writers like George Macdonald, J.R.R..Tolkien and C.S.Lewis; and most of us older folk grew up with fairy tales from Brothers Grimm, featuring witches and wizards. What’s the difference? Besides, J.K. Rowling has often stated she does not believe in the sort of magic depicted in the books. Harry Potter books are contemporary morality tales, 21st century Books of Virtues teaching about the struggle between good and evil.”
Well, for someone who does not believe in magic, she certainly has done her homework and has studied much occult and witchcraft history, weaving well-resourced information into her stories. The titles of the books alone suggest further revelations of dark secrets:
1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s (Philosopher’s) Stone
2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Names such as “Azkaban”, “Circe”, “Draco”, “Erised” (‘Desire’ spelt backwards), “Hermes”, and “Slytherin” are all names of real devils or demons in the occult world. Sirius, a leading character in the third book, who appears to protect Harry, is the Keeper of Hell in the book called “Sirus” by occult writer, M. Temple Richmond.
The Phoenix is one of the oldest occult symbols of resurrection, from Egyptian Mystery religions, and is a symbol of Lucifer who was cast down and who will one day rise triumphantly.
The Philosopher’s Stone is associated with alchemy, a medieval occult attempt turn base metal into gold, to discover the secrets of transformation. One occultist defined alchemy as “the process of the transmutation and purification… of the soul via the discipline of purifying and combining physical materials and chemicals which are symbolic of spiritual transformations,” and the Philosopher’s Stone was a “metaphor for the illuminated mind,” and the “First Substance from which all other metals derived.”
In the first Harry Potter book, Rowlings introduces her readers to a Nicolas Flamel as the partner in alchemy of Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts. Harry and his friends research Flamel in the library and discover him to be the only known maker of the Sorcerer’s Stone which can turn metal into gold and gives immortality through producing the ‘Elixir of Life’. Flamel was indeed a fourteenth century French master of esoteric and occult knowledge, mentioned often in witchcraft literature and occult encyclopedias. In the Potter books, Flamel has succeeded in achieving immortality and is over six hundred years old.
One reference source describes alchemy as having “to do with the liberation and transformation of consciousness” and “that the gold of the alchemists is the body of resurrection” which is a “divinisation” and immortality of self. Alchemy seeks to make man a god, one who can create and transform by his will, secret knowledge, and magical access to forces. “There was a lot more to magic, as Harry quickly found out”, writes Rowlings, “than waving your wand and saying a few funny words.”
So if we can believe Rowlings that she does not believe in this sort of magic, she certainly plays the game very well. As already mentioned, the fifth book was released worldwide in bookstores at midnight on the witch’s sabbath of midsummer, June 21, while first copies of the fourth book were eagerly snapped up in the dead of night on July 8th, the 18th day (three sixes in numerology) from the same significant midsummer date.
Whether she is deliberately doing so, or is an unwitting pawn of sinister powers, Rowlings is initiating millions of young and not-so-young minds into occult lore and practice. Macdonald, Tolkien and Lewis on the other hand create their characters specifically to portray Christian understandings of truth and power. Gandolf, the wizard of Lord of the Rings, can be demonstrated to portray many Christ-like features. Although Tolkien did not intend his story to be read as Christian allegory, it certainly portrays a biblical understanding of power, and of good and evil. Tolkien shows that the source of power matters immensely, and its use is not justified by the end goal.
But surely the use of such ‘evil’ figures in fantasy is just a literary technique helping to expand children’s imaginations and preparing them for the real fallen world in which we live? Whether or not fantasy is good depends on the object of the fantasy. Is pornographic fantasy good? A Christian understanding of the spirit world would suggest that fantasising about the occult is a dangerous invitation to dark powers seeking to influence and control impressionable minds.
GOOD & EVIL
Professor Quirrell, one of Harry’s instructors, tells him: “There is no good or evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it.” One former witch, now a pastor, says Harry Potter is not a story of good versus evil; it is a story of White Magic Witchcraft versus Black Magic Witchcraft.” Harry and company are the White Magic wizards fighting Voldemort, the Lord of Darkness. All parties are wizards, drawing their power from the same source!
The author of the Sata
nic Bible himself, Anton LaVey, called this differentiation between good and evil nonsense. “White magic is supposedly utilized only for good or unselfish purposes, and black magic, we are told, is used only for selfish or ‘evil’ reasons. Satanism draws no such dividing line. Magic is magic, be it used to help or hinder.” [The Satanic Bible, Page 51].
But once we take the biblical God out of the picture, on what do we base our definition of good? Ultimately, good becomes what we can get away with. Casting spells on others – even in the name of doing good – is to manipulate others against their will. This is not the way God deals with humankind.
A typically eastern concept of polarity seems to be at lay here, downplaying the idea of absolute good and evil. This is fundamental to occult philosophies which generally deny a conflict between good and evil. In Taoist yin-yang philosophy, for example, opposites are equal forces perceived as opposite but are actually make up the whole, constantly interacting and merging with each other. Hence the white dot on the black side and vice-versa.
Firstly, we need to respond proactively to the rise of neo-paganism, and not simply ignore it as if it will go away. It’s here to stay for a very long time. It’s part of the world our families are growing up in. So we need to become familiar with it, to learn to discern truth from error, to help our children recognise what’s wrong with Harry’s world. Perhaps reading one or more of the books or seeing the film are steps we can take to engage with this phenomenon in order to talk with others. On the other hand, our consciences may tell us we should not touch the material. Each one of us has to make that decision.
We may want to discuss parts of the books with our children in the light of God’s word, teaching them God’s perspective on occultism.
Scripture encourages us on the one hand to engage culture with the purpose of transforming it, yet on the other to be separate and holy. The right balance between these two responses will be different for different people and at different seasons. The Bible is clear that spells and sorcery are occult, and forbidden by God. (e.g. Deuteronomy 18:9-16). Can we treat something God has condemned as simply fantasy, or even as a ‘book of virtues’?
In Acts 17:16-34, Paul used his knowledge of Greek philosophy, culture and poetry to communicate with the Athenians. Two chapters later, he confronts the occult trade through healings and deliverances. Acts 19:18-20: “And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of all; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.” (My Bible notes that a piece of silver was a day’s wage. By today’s standards – a minimum daily wage is about €50 – this would translate to at least two and a half million euro’s worth!)
With the renewed interest in magic and witchcraft, we should pray for Acts 19 breakthroughs among today’s neo-pagans. Let’s not forget that the magi who came searching for the Baby Jesus were not card-carrying evangelicals, but may have come from a Zoroastrian background. Yet they were God-seekers.
May God give us discernment and wisdom to use the Harry Potter books to build communication bridges with today’s God-seekers.
Till next week,