Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Is Death Still the Next Great Adventure?

(With a Brief Commentary on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince)

~by Marcia Montenegro, Former Professional Astrologer
Written August 2007

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[Note: Fiction and fantasy are neutral and can be fine vehicles for literature, but fantasy and fiction are given shape by their content. Fiction can be quite influential, especially on children. Note: Magic is spelled here as "magick" to refer to occult magick; "pagan" is used in the generic sense to refer to non-Christian or pagan beliefs of the ancient world rather than to modern Neopagan religions. The bulk of this article is on the last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, although there are opening brief comments on the sixth book.]

Incantation is Magick

This book, more than any of the earlier books, has people casting spells right and left. There is almost not a single page that does not mention a spell, especially toward the end. Harry, Hermione and Ron, who travel from place to place throughout most of the book, are constantly casting protective spells so that Voldemort's forces will not detect them. This is amusing in a grim way because protection spells are quite customary to the world of the occult. At one point, Hermione walks "in a wide circle . . . murmuring incantations as she went" (272). In occult practice, circles are cast so that magick and spells can be done inside them, since the circle is believed to provide protection.

In an attempt to de-emphasize the spells in Harry Potter, some have claimed that the magic in these books is "mechanical," meaning that supernatural forces are not called upon in the spellcasting. However, the events undeniably imply a connection with something beyond the natural because supernatural effects result from the spells. The results are not "mechanical" at all.

Others, such as author John Granger, claim that incantational magick is not the same as invocational magick, and that since incantations are used in Harry Potter but not invocations, one must therefore dismiss the use of spells in the books. However, both incantations and invocations are part of practicing occult magick, and sometimes these terms are used interchangeably. When Voldemort is approaching Hogwarts at the book's end, Flitwick, the Charms master (charms are yet another occult tool) "started muttering incantations of great complexity. Harry heard a weird rushing noise, as though Flitwick had unleashed the power of the wind into the grounds" (601). It certainly sounds as though Flitwick's incantations summoned some sort of power beyond the natural!

Merriam-Webster online states that incantation is "a use of spells or verbal charms spoken or sung as a part of a ritual of magic" (http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/incantation), and gives the first meaning for invocation as "the act or process of petitioning for help or support," with the second meaning similar to the first one, and the third meaning being "a formula for conjuring" with incantation as a synonym (http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/invocation). A dictionary on witchcraft states that doing a spell "consists of words or incantations" done along with a ritual, actions performed "while the words are spoken;" sometimes, the incantation can be a chant, also called a charm (Rosemary Guiley, An Encyclopedia of Witchcraft [NY: Checkmark Books, 1999], 317, 53).

Another source defines spells as incantations, which are a "written or spoken formula of words supposed to be capable of magical effects" (Lewis Spence, An Encyclopedia of Occultism [NY: Citadel Press Book; Carol Publishing Group, 1996], 377). The entry on spells discusses various forms (Ibid., 377-78), including curses, a word found throughout Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, indicating a spell. The concept behind the use of incantations in spells is that there is a connection between the words and the objects or actions that the words signify; this is a very common view in the occult, and the reader sees it plainly in the Harry Potter books.

The difference between invocation and incantation is only one of degree: a magickal invocation uses incantations, and an incantation used for spellcasting is by definition a spell and part of the magickal arts (including enchantments), acts denounced and forbidden by God (Deuteronomy 18.10,11; Isaiah 47.9-12; Ezekiel 13.18; Acts 13.6-11, Acts 19.19; if one recognizes that incantations are also part of sorcery, then we must add Leviticus 19.26, 2 Kings 17.17, 21.6; 2 Chronicles 33.6, Galatians 5.19-21, and Revelation 9.21, 18.23, 21.8, 22.15) . How can doing magickal incantations be accepted in a Biblical worldview? An incantation done for spellcasting, as in the Harry Potter books, is part of doing occult magick, whether one is deliberately invoking spirits or not.

Furthermore, doing an incantation in order to effect a magickal outcome will naturally bring contact with spirits. This is true with all occult practices, including divination (such as astrology, tarot card reading, palm reading), because these practices invite contact with spirits (i.e., fallen angels), whether or not that is the practitioner's intention. Virtually every astrologer, tarot card reader, psychic, and witch that I knew when I was an astrologer had spirit guides, including myself, even if at first we were not looking for it. Having spirit guides is integral to occult practice.

Occult concepts and worldviews are present in all the Harry Potter books (see CANA articles on the earlier books for specific examples). Dumbledore's brother, Aberforth, explains to Harry that their sister, Ariana, became "unbalanced" because her "magic . . . "turned inward and drove her mad, it exploded out of her when she couldn't control it" (564). Her actions caused her mother's death (565). Teachings on using magick emphasize discipline and control. It is not uncommon for occult teachings to advise that using magick is dangerous and can be destructive if used wrongly, or warn of danger if the person is not ready for what they are attempting to do (this is also taught about the use of other "energies" in New Age practices, and an energy called kundalini in Hinduism).

Ollivander, the wandmaker, tells Harry that a true wizard can "channel your magic through almost any instrument" (494). This is the view of magickal tools used in the occult ? the tools themselves are usually considered extensions of the practitioner. Ollivander also discusses how a wand "chooses the wizard" and that a "conquered wand will usually bend its will to its new master" (494). This implies a spirit controlling the wand, because a wand, as an object, cannot have a "will." How is this "mechanical magic?" Well, of course, it is not.

Death Lite

The word "deathly" in the title certainly lives up to its name in this last book as the reader sees deaths pile up from the beginning. In Chapter 16, Harry and Hermione encounter a quote on Harry's parents' tombstone from 1 Cor 15.26 about death as "the last enemy" to be destroyed, but what does this mean in light of the following examples, starting with the first book, that minimize death or even present death as friendly?

In the first book, when Harry Potter learned that alchemist Nicolas Flamel and his wife would die after the Sorcerer's Stone has been destroyed, Harry is comforted by Dumbledore who tells him, "After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure," (297). This is repeated later by Harry to his friends, Ron and Hermione (302).

Message: Death is an adventure.

In the fifth book, Dumbledore says to Voldemort, who seeks immmortality, "...your failure to understand that there are things much worse than death has always been your greatest weakness" (181).

Message: There are worse things than death.

The front page of the seventh book has two quotes that give very pagan views of death. One is The Libation Bearers by Aeschylus that includes the line, "We sing to you, dark gods beneath the earth." The other poem, "More Fruits of Solitude" by William Penn, with the line, "Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still," declares that even when friends die, they live on because friendship is immortal. As one of my friends noted, this is more like a Hallmark card than the Bible. There is nothing Biblical about either one of these poems about death.

Message: Pagan views of death are given as truth.

Additionally, the books give the idea that one can communicate with the dead. This is a theme found in all the books, not only with the Hogwarts ghosts being the ghosts of actual people who have died, but also when Harry has encounters with the dead. After Hermione expresses doubt that the Resurrection Stone can raise the dead, Harry reminds her that in the duel with Voldemort (in the fourth book), his wand "made my mum and dad appear . . . and Cedric." Hermione responds that they were not really back from the dead but were only "pale imitations." However, she does not deny that Harry's dead parents really did communicate with him.

This contact with the dead is more blatant later in the book when Harry is going to meet Voldemort in the forest to let Voldemort kill him. Harry turns the Resurrection Stone over in his hand three times, and his dead parents, Lupin, and Sirius appear, "neither ghost nor truly flesh" (698). Nevertheless, this is presented as a very real encounter and Harry has conversations with these people who are conscious that they are dead. Lupin even regrets that he had to leave his young son behind (699-701). Harry meets the deceased Dumbledore in a place that is described as "warm and light and peaceful" (722). These encounters are offered neither as dreams nor as imaginary.

Defenders of the books who know that God forbids communication with the dead may attempt to say this is metaphor, but that is not how it is presented. And adults know that children would take it as it is written -- literally. Furthermore, Dumbledore imparts important information to Harry that he does not know nor could have known; so clearly the reader is meant to believe that the dead Dumbledore is actually communicating with Harry. Otherwise, where else would Harry be getting the information? Even though Dumbledore agrees with Harry that "it is happening inside your head," he adds, "why on earth should that mean that it is not real?" (723). Nothing in the text indicates the conversation between Dumbledore and Harry or the information exchanged is imaginary or is a metaphor.

Message: One can receive contact from and communicate with the dead, and it's helpful and good. (Of course, this is the message the mediums would like you to believe ? see CANA article on Spirit Contact).

In Deathly Hallows, the title derives from a children's tale of three brothers who come to possess certain objects called the Deathly Hallows that supposedly help them avoid death. The third brother, who is the "wisest" and "humblest," chooses the Invisibility Cloak so he can hide from death, and he is the only brother who succeeds in cheating death for his lifetime. When he is old, he gives the cloak to his son and he "then greeted Death as an old friend, and went with him gladly, and, equals, they departed this life" (409ff). This story of the brothers is about cheating death with magickal objects, but Harry discovers that the Hallows are real, and the Invisibility Cloak inherited from his father is the cloak in the Hallows story.

Message: Death is an "old friend."

Harry speaks with the dead Sirius in the forest who, when asked by Harry if dying hurts, responds, "'Dying? Not at all,' said Sirius. "Quicker and easier than falling asleep.'"

Message: Death is "easier than falling asleep."

After Harry seems to have died (although Dumbledore tells him he has not died), Harry encounters Dumbledore who tells him "You are the true master of death, because the true master of death does not seek to run away from Death. He accepts that he must die, and understands that there are far, far worse things in the living world than dying" (720-21). That one must "master" death is an occult view.

Message: One can "master" death and there are worse things than death.

We cannot take the quotes on the tombstones out of the book's context in view of the other quotes on death, which are given solemnly to Harry by his "father figures," Dumbledore and Sirius, with similar messages from Dumbledore to Voldemort, and via the Hallows story. One tombstone quote, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (325) really does not tell the readers anything unless they know the Biblical context. It could mean anything to anyone. Harry, in fact, doesn't understand it (326).

The quote on the tombstone for Harry's parents, "the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" is meaningful only in its Biblical and Christian context. But no Biblical citation is given for either quote. Harry thinks the quote is something a Death Eater would say, but Hermione explains that it means, "living beyond death. Living after death" (328). Harry's response is morose; he broods on the fact that his parents' "moldering remains lay beneath snow and stone, indifferent, unknowing" and wishes that he could be "sleeping under the snow with them"(328-29).

Later, after Harry's brush with death, he has an experience that implies life after death, which is essentially the message Hermione gave him at the graveyard, when he encounters his deceased parents, and a dead Dumbledore, Lupin, and Sirius. But the message that there is life after death is common in many beliefs and societies, going back to ancient pagan cultures; there is nothing particularly Christian about it. In fact, the other quotes about death give very unchristian messages about death.

A couple of quotes from the Bible do not a Christian message make. When I was an astrologer, I often quoted the Bible in articles I wrote for various New Age publications. In fact, it is quite common for occult and New Age sources to quote the Bible. Psychics and tarot card readers may pray to God before a reading. Occult rituals in folk magick often recommend saying or doing something three times in imitation of the Trinity. Occult superstition is even practiced by Christians. A common example we see today is an email sending a prayer or Bible verse and asking the recipients to forward it to x number of people for "good luck," to "get a blessing," or gain some other benefit. Sometimes, the recipients are told that misfortune will befall them if they do not forward the email on. This is essentially a product of occult belief in the forces of luck and misfortune, or the need to placate the "gods" of fortune.

While death should not be the worst thing for a Christian, it is certainly astonishing for a Christian to agree that death is not the worst thing for someone who has not been redeemed. Yet millions of children (and teens and adults) who do not know Christ have read or will read these words that death is a "friend," death is like falling asleep, and death is an adventure.

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