THE HARRY POTTER BOOKS: JUST FANTASY?

(With a Brief Look at Magic)

By Marcia Montenegro [*] (updated February 2007)

[This article is primarily for parents wondering about or wrestling with the issue of Harry Potter and a biblical worldview. For further information, please read my articles on the Harry Potter books under the Articles section in the Table of Contents].

There is fantasy and good story telling in the Harry Potter books. At the same time, the stories are infused with references to actual occult practices, [†] some of which I once studied and practiced. But since these practices are mixed in with fantasy, readers may think these practices are fantasy, too.

The hero of the book is a wizard who attends a school, Hogwarts, where he is learning how to use his powers through studying and learning occult arts such as divination, casting spells, astrology, magical potions, and others. He is not a figure of contemporary pagan religions (such as Wicca), nor is he an imaginary wizard, but he is presented as a real boy who comes to the school to hone his innate magical abilities and develop into a practitioner of occult arts.

Many people today, influenced by television, movies, and fictional books, tend to think that magic is just made-up. There is fantasy magic such as a cartoon figure tapping a wand and turning a mushroom turns into a leopard, or something similar. Real magic is quite different, but does involve an attempt to use supernatural powers, or to connect with powers (sometimes seen as natural) through incantations, spirit contact, spells, reading hidden meanings, "powers" of the mind, and other forms of paranormal activity.

That Harry was born as a wizard is fantasy (though there are Witches today who believe they are born that way), but several occult arts referred to in the books are part of the real world and are not fantasy. In addition to those already mentioned above, other real occult practices in the books are: the Runes, numerology (arithmancy), and crystal gazing (scyring). The books also refer to alchemy, amulets, charms, contact with the dead, Nicolas Flamel (a real historical alchemist), the Dark Side, and many other occult practices or concepts. Using "good" magic to fight "bad" magic is a major component of the plot.

In 1996, the heroine of a movie called The Craft was a witch who used her powers to fight "bad" witches. This movie helped to galvanize the growing Wicca/witchcraft movement and attracted a lot of teen girls to Wicca (Llewellyn's New Worlds of Mind and Spirit, Sept/Oct. 1996, p. 6: "Whether you loved it or hated it, The Craft created a surge of interest in magick, the occult, and Witchcraft"). Ask any Wiccan if using magick is good, and most will respond that magick is "natural" and "neutral;" therefore, it is okay to use magick "for good." How does this message differ from the Harry Potter books? Harry Potter echoes these ideas and demonstrates that using the occult arts is permissible and good if the intention or outcome is good.

We are in a world where many intelligent and nice people seriously practice the occult. When I was a professional astrologer, I had many clients who were involved in the occult. A June 14, 1999 article of "Publishers' Weekly Online," discussed how popular pagan books have become among younger readers. One of the books discussed is a book on "white witchcraft." Essential to this philosophy is to avoid going over to the "dark side" to practice "dark" or "black" witchcraft, exactly the idea that is taught in Harry Potter.

As a former Literature major, I am aware that fiction and fantasy can be powerful vehicles of ideas and beliefs. The issue is not whether readers know the difference between reality and fantasy, but whether they realize that some things in these books are not fantasy and are used by real people in the real world as a good thing.

And the question is not whether these books will cause a child to get interested in the occult, but whether these books can desensitize children to the occult, a more subtle but nevertheless entirely real effect. Fantasy is a wonderful literary genre, but it can be misused as a vehicle for harmful messages.

If Harry is good, then it must be good to use spells and other powers for good, since that is what the books advocate. If Harry lies and puts himself above the rules, which he does consistently, then that must be good as well, since Harry is the hero and is presumed to be good. Many defend these books on the ground that this is a story of good versus evil. If this is true, then one must conclude that in order to do good, one can lie, deceive, act maliciously, and use sorcery if the intention is good, or if the results are acceptable. This is a philosophy called pragmatism. In other words, the ends justify the means. Is this an ethic that one wishes to model for young people?

Ultimately, it is not that the Potter books provide an immoral universe, which at least acknowledges good and bad, but rather it is that the books present a morally neutral universe -- an amoral worldview, in which the practice of the occult for benevolent purposes is permissible and even encouraged. In essence, this is the occult worldview.

Brief overview of magic:

Magic as a ritual or technique to supernaturally manipulate forces goes back as far as early man and is found in cave paintings. Magic is common in Greek mythology, Homer, Canaanite religious literature, Akkadian myths, and Egyptian religion and myths (Colin Brown, ed. and trans., The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol. 2 {Grand Rapids: Zondervan and Paternoster, 1976}, 552-4). Magical practices infiltrated Judaism, often using the name of God (New Int'l Dictionary, 556), although these practices were strictly forbidden in Hebrew Scripture (Deut. 18: 9-12; Lev. 19: 26, 31, 20:6; Jer. 27: 9-10; Malachi 3:5).

Magic, also known historically as sorcery (though the term "sorcery" is not popular today and usually connotes negative practices), can be defined as casting spells using a special formula of words or actions to gain control or bend reality to one's will, and also as a technique to attain certain ends through contact with spirits and psychic realms. White magic was believed to be used for good ends; black magic for evil ends (New Int'l. Dictionary, 552, 6). A magician can be defined as one possessing occult knowledge as a diviner, or an astrologer. It is one who tries to bring about certain results beyond man's normal abilities. In Egypt and Babylon, magicians were educated and wise in the science of the day; they were priests. They were thought to possess special knowledge and so were used by rulers to interpret dreams (Tenney, Merrill C. and Steven Barabas, eds., The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, 5 Volumes [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975]vol. 4, 38). The New International Dictionary lists pharmakos as a related term (though a different word) because herbs were traditionally gathered and used for spells and to invoke spirits at magical ceremonies (p. 558).

Contemporary magic, usually spelled magick, is connected to different beliefs. In contemporary Wicca or witchcraft, or in ritual/ceremonial magick, the use of magic is overt, and may involve invoking and/or evoking the powers of gods, spirits, and/or forces of nature (elementals and devas). Magick can be also practiced apart from these traditions in more subtle ways, such as the use of visualization. This is the technique of visualizing, and sometimes verbally affirming in a repetitive fashion (affirmations), one's goals or desires in the belief that doing this will bring about that which is desired.

Another subtle use of magic is found in the concept of accessing or channeling energies or forces for healing. In fact, popular forms of so-called alternative healing, such as Therapeutic Touch, Reiki, acupuncture, shiatsu, and other related practices, are based on the same concept of channeling or manipulating a force. In these cases, the force is viewed as a healing force from God or as a flow of chi believed to be part of a universal energy. However, these practices are nothing more than thinly disguised occult healing methods. Many people do not realize that such healing has been a part of magic and sorcery for centuries. Therapeutic Touch is exactly like psychic healing (and derives from that, originating with a member the occult Theosophical Society who taught this to a nurse), and Reiki originates from similar occult beliefs.

Occultists readily admit the connection between energy and magick. Starhawk, a well-known witch and author, states that energy "what the Chinese call chi – flows in certain patterns throughout the human body and can be raised, stored, shaped, and sent. . . . this is the theory that underlies acupuncture and other naturopathic systems of healing, as well as the casting of spells and magical workings," (Starhawk, Truth or Dare [HarperSanFrancisco; New York: HarperCollins paperback, 1987], 24).

If you would like to read more about this topic, the author's book, SpellBound: The Paranormal Seduction of Today's Kids (Sept, 2006), goes into these issues in-depth. This book is available on many sites such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, CBD, and in Christian bookstores, or it can be ordered for you by any bookstore.

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[*] The author of this article was involved for many years in occult practices that included contact with the dead, spirit contact, having a spirit guide, the study of numerology and the Tarot, being a professional astrologer and astrology teacher, psychic development, psychic healing, and contact with psychics, those who practiced witchcraft, and other occult, New Age practitioners.

[†] By "occult" I mean the forbidden practices listed in Deut 18.10-12, which include: casting spells, divination, spirit contact, contacting the dead, sorcery (which includes mixing magical potions), witchcraft (English translation for a word referring to using magic or incantations, sometimes the use of drugs or poisons for magical use or for summoning spirits) – see overview of magic and sorcery at end of this article), reading omens, and others.

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