The foundation showing that sorcery is an occult practice, that J. K. Rowling's character Harry Potter is learning sorcery, and that there is a difference between sorcery and contemporary witchcraft and Wicca, was laid out in my article on the first Harry Potter book, written in the spring of 2000 and posted on this website. Various pieces of evidence were given and backed up with quotes from occult sources. For example, I think I was the first one to discover that Nicolas Flamel is an historical personage who was an alchemist; I discovered this on a hunch that Flamel's name was not a name Rowling would make up. There are legends that grew up around Flamel, but he is an actual person from history. Some practices alluded to in the first book are described in occult books. In short, it was shown that Rowling did not just pull all of Harry Potter's antics from her imagination as has been alleged by the press and by many of her fans. Divination, one of the courses at Hogwarts, is an integral part of the occult. [See Note A at the end of article].
It is unnecessary to go over the same material again, so if you have not read the first article, Harry Potter, Sorcery, and Fantasy, it might be helpful to do so in order to put the following article in its proper perspective. This more informal article will cover topics more succinctly, mainly pointing out references in the second, third, and fourth books that are related to the following: the occult; topics of darkness and death inappropriate for children; dark, disturbing imagery; immoral actions being endorsed by the stories; or immoral or malicious actions presented without any condemnation. I discovered that themes of darkness and death, as well as blatantly accepted immorality on the part of the main characters, increased dramatically in the second, third, and fourth books. All examples cannot be covered, so only the most objectionable and blatant will be included.
I have endeavored to support all my assertions about the books' messages with clear examples from the books. I believe that the books indict themselves on all counts.
Sources are listed at the end.
Book Two: The Chamber of Secrets (Scholastics paperback, 1999)
Harry sees the Hand of Glory in a shop (52). The Hand of Glory is a reference to a real object used for occult purposes, and was a hand that was cut off from an executed criminal. In De Givry's Witchcraft, Magic, and Alchemy, he quotes a book published in 1722 (Secrets merveilleux de la magie naturelle et cabalistique du Petit Albert): "Take the right or left hand of a felon who is hanging from a gibbet beside a highway".....[gives directions for pickling & drying it out]..."Next make a kind of candle with the fat of a gibbeted felon, virgin was, sesame, and ponie, and use the Hand of Glory as a candlestick..."(de Givry, 181). According to another source, the hand of glory "was used as a charm in black-magic spells...ideally severed while the corpse still swung from the gallows" and then candles made from "the murderer's fat" and the wick "made from his hair" were placed between the fingers of the hand. Burglars believe that carrying the lighted hand of glory would keep the occupants of a house asleep (Guiley, 149). The Hand of Glory is mentioned as "gruesome" by both de Givry and Spence (200) and as "grisly" by Gonzales-Wippler (317).
The headless ghosts play a game of "head hockey" (136).
The ghost, Bloody Baron, is described as "a gaunt, staring Slytherin ghost covered in silver bloodstains," (132).
One of the most horrifying images is how sweet 11-yr-old Ginny Weasley, younger sister of Harry's best friend, Ron, is dying as Tom Riddle, who is really Lord Voldemort, feeds off of her energy by growing stronger on "a diet of her deepest fears, her darkest secrets," to the point that she was controlled enough by Voldemort to kill animals and loose the terrible Serpent of Slytherin on four children (310, 313, 323). This conjures up a frightening picture of a young child killing animals and attempting to kill people because she was somehow "taken over" by Voldemort. This imagery is way too dark for the age group this book targets.
There are morbid references to death as in Malfoy looking forward to one of the children being killed (223), the ghost Moaning Myrtle talking about how she was pondering death before she was killed (230), and then telling Harry and his friends how she died before coming back to "haunt" someone (299). Are we perhaps to see Myrtle's death as less horrible because she was contemplating death when alive? Myrtle is not presented as a Casper-the-friendly-ghost type, but as a real child who was killed before becoming a ghost.
References to actual occult practices
Arithmancy (252), a type of numerology, is "divination by means of numbers" practiced by the Greeks, Platonists and Pythagoreans. It is also a part of the Kabbalah (Spence, 36). The Kabbalah (spelled variously with a k, c, or q, with one or two b's, and with or without an h at the end) is based on Gnostic stories and interpretations of Judaic writings, and contains elements of mysticism and occultism, including numerology, astrology, and sorcery. [For further information, see entry for "Kabbalah" in CANA's article on Occult Terms].
The "Ancient Runes" are mentioned (252). These are used for divination. Divination is a method of obtaining unknown information through interpretation of patterns, reading hidden meanings in ordinary objects or symbols, or through using contact with a discarnate entity. Forms of divination include astrology, palmistry, reading tea leaves, using a pendulum, numerology, and crystal or mirror gazing. Runes come from alphabets used by the ancient Scandinavian, Germanic, and Anglo-Saxon peoples. The term comes from runa, meaning "a whisper" or "a mystery" (Whitcomb, 229). Runes were considered "intrinsically magical" and used in sorcery (Ibid). In contemporary times, runes are carved on pieces of wood or stone and thrown down on a table or the floor for the purpose of divination.
The use of runes has increased recently due to a growth in Norse-based pagan religions such as Asatru and Odinism. In Nazi Germany, which was enjoying a romance with Germanic Neopaganism, Heinrich Himmler, who was involved in the study of runes, used a double Sig, a runic symbol for the letter S, as the emblem for the special SS forces (Gonzalez-Wippler, 317; Tresidder, 173). Runes are easily available today as cards or stonelike objects, accompanied by a book with instructions. Most stores that sell Tarot cards, such as the large bookstore chains, also stock Rune sets.
Rowling depicts the children at Hogwarts, scared of the strange goings-on, as arming themselves with talismans and amulets (185). Talismans are "objects that possess magical or supernatural power of their own and transmit them to the owner," (Guiley, 327) while amulets are magical objects that "protect against bad luck, illness, and evil," (Guiley, 8). Alchemists would perform incantations to summon spirits to imbue their talismans with power, and the most prized talisman was the Philosopher's Stone (Ibid, 327), called the Sorcerer's Stone in the first H. Potter book. Amulets and talismans are used today, even in popular culture. The belief that certain stones can bring healing, wealth, or happiness are an example of this.
In this book, the mandrakes are portrayed as sentient beings with a "cry that is fatal to anyone who hears it," and are able to bring cursed people "back to their original state,"(92). Guiley states that the mandrake is "a poisonous perennial herb...reputed to have powerful magical properties...The ancient Arabs and Germans believed a mandragoras, a demon spirit resembling a little man with no beard, dwelled in the plant..." and "touching it can be fatal. If uprooted, it shrieks and sweats blood, and whoever pulls it out dies in agony." (221). De Givry notes that the mandrake was seen as having a male or female form, and superstition had it that these forms were indwelt by demons (345-6).
Aside from the occult symbolism and usage, there is the moral problem of Harry and his friends disobeying, deceiving, lying, and acting in mean-spirited ways. Almost every adventure Harry has comes from lying or disobeying. These are some of the pages describing Harry or his friends lying or practicing deception: 32, 134, 143, 162-3 (Hermione deceives Lockhart into signing a note for Harry), 187-88, 209 (Harry lies to Dumbledore), 288 (Harry lied to two people), and 292.
One of the first big adventures is when Harry agrees to ride with Ron Weasley in the flying car owned by their father which they have taken without his permission. The car has been given these powers by Mr. Weasley who, by doing this, is himself in violation of the law. Adults in these books often do not abide by laws either.
If Harry or his friends regretted deception, or were punished for it, it would set a moral tone that lying and deception are wrong. But Harry and his friends often get away with their pranks, receive light consequences, or are even rewarded for their disobedience. In fact, at the end of the book, Dumbledore tells Harry and Ron, "I seem to remember telling you both that I would have to expel you if you broke any more school rules," (330). Then Dumbledore immediately says, "Which goes to show that the best of us must sometimes eat our words....You will both receive Special Awards for Services to the School and...two hundred points apiece for Gryffindor," (331). This final result teaches that the ends justify the means; moral behavior is set aside if certain results are achieved.
Alchemy was an occult practice. Although some of the discoveries in alchemy led to the modern science of chemistry, the purpose of the alchemists' work was not scientific discovery, but to find the elixir of life through the discovery of the Philosopher's Stone (called the Sorcerer's Stone in the first Harry Potter book for the U.S. edition). Symbols rich in esoteric meaning, occult references to astrology and numerology, and other occult terms were the heart of alchemy. Alchemy served as a symbolic depiction of the esoteric, spiritual journey to self-divinization. According to De Givry, alchemy is understanding the mystery of creation (350). [See the CANA article on the first Harry Potter book for more information].
Much literature on the practice of alchemy is in French:
Voldemort (mort is French for death).
Gryffindor - (d'or is French for gold): Griffins are used in alchemical imagery and symbolism (mercury to gold = Gryffindor)
N. Flamel (from the first book) – an actual alchemist from 14th/15th century France whose name was found in several occult books
Seven metals were used for the alchemical process (corresponding to 7 planets); there will be seven books in H. Potter series.
The Phoenix, a symbol of the alchemical process, saves Harry in book 2, and will be in the title of book 5. The song of the phoenix also comforts Harry in the fourth book as he confronts Voldemort (664).