This article first appeared in the Fall 2000 edition of Midwest Christian Outreach Inc Journal and is reproduced here with their kind permission.
Harry Potter is a character in a series of books written by J. K. Rowling about a young boy who discovers he really is a wizard, (in other words, a sorcerer). Four books have come out in the Harry Potter series, with 3.8-million copies of the fourth book released in the U.S. on July 8, 2000. Worldwide, 35-million copies of the first three books are in print, with about half of total sales in the U.S. (USA Today, 6-22-00, p. D-1). The first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was released in England as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The “Philosopher’s Stone” is part of the lore of alchemy and Medieval sorcery, and supposedly was a stone which could be used to turn base metal to gold and was the Holy Grail of sorcery (Bill Whitcomb, The Magician’s Companion, St. Paul: Llewellyn, 1994, pp. 351, 485, 527).
Rowling has been hailed as a clever, imaginative writer who has enticed children into reading books again. No doubt this is true. Yet, however clever or imaginative the stories are, they do center on a character who is learning the arts of sorcery and witchcraft. One defense, or minimization of the sorcery in the Harry Potter books, is that the stories are just a normal part of a child’s fantasy world. The stories of C. S. Lewis and J.R. Tolkien are often brought up as examples. But are Lewis and Tolkien the standard for discernment? Even so, Lewis did not endorse the occult. And if Tolkien did, does that make it okay? (When I was an astrologer, my witch clients and friends loved Tolkien, by the way.) Yes, Lewis and Tolkien did write fantasy novels that included magical elements. The question for Christians should be: Is the fantasy (in any story) centered on the occult, and what does God say about the occult?
It is pointed out that Harry Potter represents “good” fighting “evil”, and therefore, in the context of fantasy, this is okay. These views, however, raise several questions: Is the sorcery and magic in Harry Potter just fantasy? If not, are fantasy stories using occultism as a model healthy reading? Is it Biblical to accept the use of “good” magical power if it is used to fight evil? Is there such a thing as “good” sorcery? Any popular children’s book set in an occult environment offering a hero who practices the occult arts warrants careful examination and a Biblical response. Occult sources are used for this article to make the point that occultism is real and is part of a serious practice, philosophy and spirituality that is opposed to historic, Biblical Christianity.
Sorcery And Witchcraft Are Real
Although Harry Potter attends the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, what is really being described in the book is sorcery. Sorcery and witchcraft in some cultures are the same thing. According to one source, “European witchcraft grew out of sorcery, the casting of spells and divination” (Rosemary Guiley, Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft, New York: Checkmark Books/Facts on File, 1999, p.315). Since there is no Hebrew word for witchcraft, some Bible translations will use the term “witchcraft” while others will use “sorcery.” Rather than using a label, Hebrew describes the practices of what is translated by each culture as sorcery or witchcraft, such as using potions (or poison), incantations to spirits, communing with the dead, etc. Each culture and its language comes up with the label of witchcraft or sorcery according to particular cultural understanding and practices. [See Note A at end of article for further explanation].
Contemporary witchcraft, especially in the United States, is a form of religious Neo-paganism and is not sorcery, which is an occult practice. Although varied in its beliefs from group to group, witchcraft and Wicca usually encompass the views of honoring nature as sacred, monism (all is one energy), polytheism (many gods), and pantheism (all is God/Goddess) or panentheism (God/Goddess is contained within the world). A well-known witch couple state that “The rationale of Wicca is a philosophical framework into which every phenomenon, from chemistry to clairvoyance, from logarithms to love, can be reasonable fitted” (Janet and Stewart Farrar, A Witches’ Bible, Custer, WA: Phoenix Publishing, 1996, p. 106). While witches and Wiccans might practice magick (occult magick is often spelled with a ‘k’) or cast spells, they would more likely consider it “white magick” and not sorcery. [See the CANA document on Wicca/Witchcraft]
Those who practice sorcery may adopt some pagan beliefs, but do not usually identify with witchcraft. Contemporary sorcery is based on a belief of accessing and manipulating energy through various methods. There are those who practice ritual magick, an involved form of sorcery based on teachings going back to ancient societies. Some equate ritual magick with ‘High Magic,’ described in one book as teaching “how to reach one’s personal genius, the Guardian Angel who watches over each individual life and who is waiting faithfully and patiently to make man’s every wish come true” (Migene Gonzalez-Wippler, The Complete Book of Spells, Ceremonies & Magic, St. Paul: Llewellyn, 1996, 2d edition, p. 64). Many ritual magicians may also use some of the writings and philosophy of infamous magician Aleister Crowley, who died in 1947. [By the way, Crowley was not a Satanist, although some Satanists use him as a model and adopt his Thelemic Law, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” allegedly given to Crowley by his Guardian Angel/spirit guide, Aiwass, (Guiley, 71-72)].
Magic is “the art of changing consciousness and physical reality according to will,” and sorcery is “the manipulation of natural forces and powers to achieve a desired objective”(Guiley, 212, 314). Another definition of sorcery is offered by Lewis Spence as using “supposed supernatural power by the agency of evil spirits called forth by spells by a witch or black magician” (An Encyclopedia of Occultism, Citadel Press/Carol Publishing, 1996, p. 373). Here is a definition by a magician: “Magic is a collection of techniques, dating back 70,000 years, aimed at manipulating the human imagination in order to produce physical, psychological, or spiritual results” (J. H. Brennan, Magick for Beginners, The Power to Change Your World, St. Paul: Llewellyn, 1999, p. 44). This latter book, by the way, was given to me by a 14-year-old teenager attending a Christian youth group.
Highly respected (by occultists) ritual magician Donald Tyson states in his booklet, The Truth About Ritual Magick, (Llewellyn, 1994): “Ritual is a mechanism for changing all four levels of being: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual” and “Through magic a channel of awareness can be opened between the spirit or Higher Self, and the ego or ordinary self allowing the Higher Self, which always knows who it is and what it wants to do, to direct and shape the ego, thereby restoring a balance to the emotions and improving health” (p. 20). We see that sorcery/magic is not just a practice, but has a spiritual context. A 16-year-old boy raised in a Christian home once quoted Tyson to me when discussing his “dabbling” in the occult.
An unnumbered page in the front of Tyson’s booklet tells us Tyson “devotes his life to the attainment of a complete gnosis of the art of magic in theory and practice. His purpose is to formulate an accessible system of personal training composed of East and West, past and present, that will help the individual discover the reason for one’s existence and a way to fulfill it.” Gnosis means knowledge, and usually implies an esoteric knowledge through which one gains spiritual wisdom. Gnosticism, the term for a religion which was one of the primary enemies of the early church, came from this word.
Crowley’s definition of magick: “Magick is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will” (as quoted in Whitcomb, 5). Whitcomb himself describes magic as “a way of creating the world” and “a pragmatic approach to changing the human psyche and, through it, the surrounding world” (6, 7). Sorcerers take their practice very seriously; it is no fantasy, but a very real part of the occult arts. [See Note B at end of article for further information.]
Some of what is taught at Hogwarts could be part of either sorcery or contemporary witchcraft, or both: studying the movement of the planets, the history of magic, herbology, potions, spells, and charms. Although it is valid to clarify witchcraft vs. sorcery, whether Harry Potter is called a witch, wizard, or sorcerer is irrelevant when looking at the content of these books to determine if they are appropriate for young people. Sorcery is nothing less than the attempt to replace God, since it is one’s will that is primary in practicing sorcery. What must be examined are the ideas and teachings contained in the book. This essay is based on the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which has more than ample material to discuss. [All quotes from the first Scholastics trade paperback printing, September 1999.]
The Philosopher’s Stone And Alchemy
Central to the plot (and part of the title) is the sorcerer’s stone-in actuality “the Philosopher’s Stone,” (title changed for books in the U.S. and France). The Philosopher’s Stone is connected to alchemy-an occult practice that combined the exploration of minerals with Gnostic practices of sorcery seeking to turn base metal into gold, and through that, attain an inner spiritual transformation. Alchemy is defined by one occultist 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” (Whitcomb, 485, 527).
Further descriptions of alchemy reveal its metaphysical nature: “High magic and alchemy are twin branches of the magical system known as Hermetism …,” and “There is an intrinsic link between alchemy and the Kabbalah … Like alchemy, the Kabbalah sees three planes in nature – the mental, the astral, and the material […] Thus, the alchemist, a Hermetic magician, bases his physical and spiritual work on the Kabbalah, particularly the Tarot …” (Gonzalez-Wippler, pp. 61 and 63). The Kabbalah is too complex to describe here; suffice it to say that it is an occultic Gnostic perversion of Judaism which “is a complete system of symbolism, angelology, demonology, and magic” (W. B. Crow, A Fascinating History of Witchcraft, Magic, and Occultism, Hollywood: Wilshire Book Company, 1968, p. 82). The Tarot are a set of cards used for divination.
Rowling refers to Nicolas Flamel in the first Harry Potter book (103, 219) as the partner in alchemy of Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts. Harry and his friends search through the library, looking for Flamel’s name to see who he is (197-8) and finally read about him as the “only known maker of the Sorcerer’s Stone” which can turn metal into gold and gives immortality through producing the “Elixir of Life” (219, 220). In Harry Potter, Flamel has achieved immortality because he is 665 years old (220).
According to Jacques Sadoul in Alchemists and Gold (G. P. Putnams’ Sons: New York; 1970), Flamel was a “Fourteenth century French adept and Public Scrivener” (p. 243) and a key figure in the story of alchemy. An “adept” is a master of esoteric knowledge including occultism. Flamel is also mentioned several times in the well-known Witchcraft, Magic & Alchemy, (Grillot de Givry, Dover publications, 1971, pp. 216, 349, 352, 360, 367, 378, 384) and in a book by the editors of GNOSIS Magazine (Richard Smoley and Jay Kinney, Hidden Wisdom, A Guide to the Western Inner Traditions, New York: Penguin/Arkana, 1999, p. 184).
Rowling’s book mentions Flamel’s wife as “Perenelle,” and that Flamel and his wife are over 600-years old due to Flamel’s success with the Philosopher’s Stone and discovery of the Elixir of Life, rendering him immortal (220). In Spence’s Encyclopedia of Occultism, Flamel’s wife is rendered as Petronella (there are probably several variations of this name). Spence states Flamel first studied astrology before coming across a book with instructions and pictures of serpents which purported to be an occult book by an alchemist and magician named Abraham, circa 1400 (1-2). This led Flamel to further studies finally achieving the ability to turn mercury into gold and the discovery of the Elixir of Life (162), just as it is stated in Rowling’s book. Flamel gained a reputation as a magician and “his followers believed that he was still alive though retired from the world, and would live for six centuries” (162). Spence’s book devotes over three pages to alchemy (9-12). If Flamel was a partner with Dumbledore, (the fictional headmaster of Hogwarts) then that naturally makes Dumbledore a practitioner of occultism. Dumbledore is fictional, but Flamel and alchemy are part of the history of occult practices.
Sadoul quotes someone named Claude d’Yge at the beginning of his book, who cautions against seeing alchemy as entirely mundane or entirely spiritual, and urges instead to see that “Alchemy is but a symbol used to reveal by analogy the process of achieving ‘Spiritual Realisation’ – in a word, that man is at once the prime matter and the athanor of the Work – let them pursue it with all their might.” The “Work” refers to the “Great Work” of alchemy. Even more pointed is this description: “In essence, alchemy has to do with the liberation and transformation of consciousness. But it is a transformation of a very specific kind. One might say that the gold of the alchemists is the body of resurrection,” which is a “divinization” and immortality of self (Smoley and Kinney, 192). Alchemy seeks to make man a god-one who can create and transform by his will, secret knowledge, and magical access to forces.
Sorcery is not a matter of mechanical actions or pretense at power, but is based on underlying occult principles and spirituality. As Rowling plainly tells us, “There was a lot more to magic, as Harry quickly found out, than waving your wand and saying a few funny words” (133). Indeed, as any book on sorcery will bear out, this is true!
Non-witches, called “Muggles,” usually are portrayed quite negatively in this book. The family who adopted Harry after his parents died (his mother’s sister and her husband) are painted in the worst possible way. Their admittedly bad character and opposition to witchcraft (which they see as “weird”) are combined, so that one is left with the impression that opposition to witchcraft and the occult is silly, narrow-minded, cruel and the result of stupidity and ignorance (pp. 1-8, 36, 40, 53, 59).
One sees this dismal portrayal of “Muggles” even more clearly in foreign translations of the books. In Italian, “Muggles” is translated as “Babbani” which sounds like “babbioni”- meaning idiots; and the Dutch word is “Dreuzel” sounding like “dreutel”- slang for a clumsy person (“The Magic Words: Potter Is a Hit in 33 Languages,” John Kelly, The Washington Post, “KidsPost,” 7-7-00, p. C-13)
Naturally, part of this is a plot device so Harry can finally escape a painful environment, and many children may identify with this. However, what is Harry escaping to? The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry! In fact, many troubled teens do “escape” to the world of the occult which seems to offer empowerment, meaning, and a sense of belonging. Are not these what Harry is seeking at Hogwarts? Is a model based on the occult a safe place of escape?
Ghosts populate the first book. Each of the four houses at the Hogwarts school has a resident ghost. Also, Harry allegedly sees his dead parents in a special mirror (which is later used for divination) and communicates with them (208-209, 210, 212). The mirror is explained by Dumbledore as something which “shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts” (213) which leaves the question open as to whether Harry really saw his deceased parents. Nevertheless, how will young children interpret this? It is most likely a child will take this literally and believe Harry could see his parents, especially since the parents respond. God forbids spirit contact and contact with the dead (Leviticus 19:31, 20:6; Deuteronomy 18: 10-11; Isaiah 8:19). We are told the dead have departed to either be with Christ or be in a place of suffering and cannot be contacted (Luke 16: 19-31; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:21-23).
In our culture, we mistakenly have accepted fictional “friendly” or humorous ghosts (think of Casper the Friendly Ghost). This has desensitized us to God’s commands against spirit contact and communication with the dead (Deuteronomy 18: 10-11; Is. 8:19), so that we substitute fiction for truth or downplay the idea of belief in ghosts. Children are often confused about ghosts and whether real people hang around after they die. According to the Bible, this cannot happen, and it is wrong to contact the dead, yet this book promotes the view that it is possible and a good thing.
In the Forbidden Forest, Harry and others meet up with some centaurs (mythical half-man, half-horse creatures) whom Hagrid calls “stargazers,” (254). Apparently, the centaurs seek guidance in astrology (257, 259). As one says, “… we are sworn not to set ourselves against the heavens. Have we not read what is to come in the movements of the planets?” and “Centaurs are concerned with what has been foretold,” apparently by the studying of the planets (257).
Although Harry’s friend, Hermione, later repeats a critical remark about astrology (which she heard from a professor and which she says to comfort Harry) as an “imprecise branch of magic” (260), it is still considered an occult art and Hermione is not saying astrology is to be avoided.
In contrast, God condemns astrology (Isaiah 47:13-15; Jeremiah 10:2; Amos 5:26-27; Acts 7:42-43) and all forms of divination (Deuteronomy 18:10-12; 2 Kings 17:17; Acts 16:16 ). (Astrology is divination.)
Divination, Spells And Occult Worldviews
This book is full of references to and sometimes outright use of divination tools, spells, and occult views.
Harry gets a glimpse of his dead parents in the Mirror of Erised (‘desire’ spelled backward), and the mirror is used later by Quirell and Harry to locate the Philosopher’s Stone (289-92). When Harry looks in the mirror to get a vision that will give him the stone’s location, he supernaturally gets the stone in his pocket (292). Mirrors, still bodies of water, crystals and other reflective surfaces are used as divination tools in the occult- a method called scrying or crystallomancy (de Givry, 305-08; Farrar, 201, 326; Guiley, pp. 307-08; Spence, 111-12). The object favored by witches was a magic mirror in which they would see visions or receive mental images after staring into the mirror (Guiley, 398). There is a long history of mirrors used in the occult, including tales that witches taught Pythagoras how to divine (fortunetell) by “holding a magic mirror up to the moon,” and magicians who stared into mirrors until they went into a light trance and “saw visions that answered the questions that were put to them” (Guiley, 229). Scrying in A Witches Bible is “any form of divination which involves gazing at or into something (crystal ball, black mirror, pool of ink, etc.) to induce psychically perceived visual images” (326). Divination (the practice of obtaining unknown information through supernatural, esoteric means, occult tools, or through reading hidden meanings) is strictly forbidden by God (Deuteronomy 18:10-11; Acts 16:16). Harry does use the mirror as a form of divination to locate the stone and he seems to know the occult principle of gazing into the mirror because he tries to stop Quirell from “giving his whole attention” to it (290).
Subjective feelings and intuition have priority in the New Age and the occult. Making a decision is often based on feeling “right” about something. When Harry is buying a wand, many wands pass through his hands until he finally gets the “right” one which causes him to feel “a sudden warmth in his fingers” (85). In fact, it is not Harry who chooses his wand, but “it’s really the wand that chooses the wizard” (82). This is a very occult view of how things work in the world-a view of magical correspondence at work between people and objects. It is almost a form of animism-the belief objects contain intelligent forces or spirits.
Wands, which were also known as divining rods, are well-known in occult arts and are used for purifying, divination, focusing energy in a spell, finding water or treasure, and invoking spirits [including the devil in black magick] (de Givry, 106-108, 311-320). In contemporary witchcraft, a wand is a magical working tool and is “the instrument of invocation of spirits” (Guiley, 380). The Farrars quote another book that a wand is used ” ‘to call up and control certain angels and genii’ ” and is often marked with occult symbols (257-58)[‘genii’ were believed to be inferior deities attached to each mortal, (Spence, 239)]. One book depicts a photograph of the aforementioned Aleister Crowley, a “magic wand” in his right hand (Gonzalez-Wippler, 287). Occultists often believe Moses was a magician who triumphed over the Egyptians and the Red Sea through sorcery with his staff (de Givry, 311; Guiley, 380). However, the Bible tells us it was God who performed these miracles using Moses (Exodus 4, 6-11, 14:21).
Before Harry learns he is a wizard (witch, sorcerer), he visits the zoo and discovers he is able to communicate with one of its residents. Which animal would that be … a noble lion, a mischievous monkey, a swift gazelle? No, it’s a snake-a boa constrictor. Harry’s actions allow the snake to escape magically after there has been a silent communication between the two (pp. 27-28). It is interesting it is the snake with whom Harry discovers his magical ability to communicate with animals since snakes have a special place in the occult, usually as symbols for wisdom, enlightenment, fertility, or feminine power (Jack Tresidder, Dictionary of Symbols, San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1998, 184-87). “The snake was above all a magico-religious symbol of primeval life force, sometimes an image of the creator divinity itself” (Tresidder, 184). It is not suggested here that the author intends these associations, but it is a point of interest considering Harry is a natural sorcerer.
Owls are used as messenger birds for the students at Hogwarts. Rosemary Guiley notes that in the Middle Ages, “demons in the forms of owls attended witches, accompanying them on their broomstick flights and running errands of evil for them” (251). (Of course, witches never rode broomsticks; this is part of folklore. Nevertheless, it is interesting that owls were messengers for witches in this folklore and show up in the Harry Potter book also as messengers).
A “sorting hat” is placed on the children’s heads in deciding which of the four houses at the school each child should join. The hat decides this and apparently can read minds (121). Of course, no hat or object can do these things, but the practices are real. The attempt to read minds (telepathy) is a psychic art and is taught in psychic development and other occult classes. Of course, only God is omniscient and knows the minds and hearts of men (Job 38:4, Psalms 44:21, Luke. 11:17, Luke. 16:15) . Spells are taught at Hogwarts and are used throughout the book, even when Harry’s friends use a “body-bind” spell on their friend, (273). Interestingly, there is a spell for binding in A Witches’ Bible (141). Interest in spells is promoted as a healthy thing when the children are on the train to Hogwarts and Ron is asked to perform a spell. When he can’t do it, Hermione brags she’s already practiced spells by doing “a few simple spells” and they worked (105). Books with spells are easy to find at any bookstore and even easier on the Internet. They have been seen in magazines for teenage girls. Witches and others do spells today; this is not a charming fantasy (pun intended). Silver Ravenwolf, a witch, has written several books aimed at teens including 1998’s Teen Witch. It sold so well that bookstores could hardly keep it on the shelves. Teen Witch and other similar books are full of instructions for casting spells. Whether these spells work or not is beside the point; casting spells and sorcery are occultism and clearly forbidden by God (Deuteronomy 18: 10-11; 2 Kings 17:17, 20:6; Isaiah 47: 10-15; Malachi 3:5; Acts 8:11, 13:6; Revelation 18:23, 21:8).
The Dark Side
References are made to the villain Voldemort (the last part of this name “mort,” is French for “death”) and others as having gone over to the “dark side” (54, 110). The implication is that people are not inherently bad but either basically good or morally neutral, and can go either way (55). This view, based on the idea of polarity, ultimately downplays evil itself and the idea of absolute good and evil. Morality with no absolutes is no morality at all, because it changes according to experience, culture, definition, or historical context.
It is similar to the Taoist yin-yang philosophy, which is based on the belief opposites in the world are equal forces. These are perceived as opposite, but are actually part of the whole, and are in a constant state of fluctuation, merging into each other. That is why there is a white dot on the black side and vice-versa. This view has been popularized in “the Force” of the Star Wars movies, in which one can go over to the “dark side.” [See CANA article on Yin-Yang]. The idea of polarity is essential in occult philosophies and denies a conflict between good and evil. The Farrars say it well: “The Theory of Polarity maintains that all activity, all manifestation, arises from (and is inconceivable without) the interaction of pairs and complementary opposites … and that this polarity is not a conflict between ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ but a creative tension like that between the positive and negative terminals of an electric battery. Good and evil only arise with the constructive or destructive application of the polarity’s output …” (107). They further state that monotheist religions are trapped in the belief that good vs. evil is a polarity: and when evil is vanquished, only good remains. The Farrars claim that “Under the unchallenged rule of a non-polarized Creator, nothing can happen” (111). In other words, a world without this polarity cannot exist or is bland if it does; good cannot exist without evil. Of course, “a non-polarized Creator” describes exactly the one true living God, and He is absolutely good: “And this is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).
Rather than accepting God’s view that all of us have a fallen, sinful nature, which is only redeemed through faith in a crucified and risen Christ (John 3:18-20; Romans 3:23-25; Colossians 1:13-14), the occult philosophy believes we have a “dark side” and by choice can be good-totally avoiding the “dark side.” Prof. Quirell, who serves the villain, cannot touch Harry, because Harry has been so deeply loved by his mother (human love can ward off evil) (295, 299). There is no need for redemption in this worldview. Good and evil are two sides of the same coin, both part of a greater oneness and of each other; so there is no absolute good or evil. Even the villain Voldemort, who is supposed to be evil, is “not … truly alive [so] he cannot be killed” (298). In the absence of absolute good and evil, who needs redemption? In the absence of absolute good and evil, at what point does one go over to the “dark side” and who draws the line? The occult, and the book, have no answer for this.
White Magick, Black Magick
A popular claim made by witches today is they are “white” witches, or they practice “white” magic and use their powers for good. This idea is central in this Harry Potter book, since Harry is learning how to use sorcery in a “good” way. Spells are sometimes used on Muggles (251). Characters in the book use sorcery to fight “dark” or “black” magic (190-91, 217, 227), and there is even a course at Hogwarts teaching students how to protect themselves against “the dark forces” (67, 134), all the while they are studying the very stuff of sorcery-charms, potions, spells, etc. God condemns all sorcery (see previous passages cited), so there is no such thing as “white” or “dark” magick; it all comes from the same place. The only people who make these distinctions are occultists. Remember, Harry is not learning magic tricks; he is learning magick.
It is interesting to note what happens at the end of the book, however, after the school has warned the students “not to use magic over the holidays” (307). Harry, in defiance and rebellion, not only purports to use magic but to use it to get back at his hated cousin, Dudley. “They don’t know we’re not allowed to use magic at home. I’m going to have a lot of fun with Dudley this summer …” (309). This is the closing sentence of the book.
In light of God’s Word, how should we view a book where the hero is learning sorcery and teaches the very principles of “white” magick and witchcraft? If a Christian thinks it is okay for Harry to do “white” magick, then can he/she in all sincerity tell a witch “white” witchcraft is wrong? To accept Harry Potter as a fun hero for children may make it seem hypocritical for you to criticize contemporary witchcraft, Wicca, and white magick.
The Occult And Its Twin, Death
The Hogwarts’ course on Transfiguration is said to be “complex and dangerous” by the teacher (134). Dumbledore tells Harry that men “have wasted away” before the Mirror of Erised or “been driven mad” by it (213). Prof. Snape talks about how his brews are “bewitching” to the mind and “ensnaring” to the senses (137); and there are books in the Hogwarts library which contain “powerful Dark Magic” (198). In a New York Times article (7-10-00, B-1), the reporter writes about Rowling: “She intimated that as the series progresses the mood may darken. The death of one character in the fourth book, she said, is ‘the beginning of the deaths.’ “
But the best hurrah for death comes near the end, when Harry Potter learns Nicolas Flamel and his wife will die after the Sorcerer’s Stone has been destroyed. Harry is sad; but an amazing statement is made by Dumbledore: “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).
The occult is always connected to death, whether in disguise or blatantly. Children all over the world reading this book can now think of death as “the next great adventure” just as so many kids who have dabbled in the occult have discovered before them. Just check out occult-based comics, games, books, videos with lots of sorcery, and what do you find? images of death; death as a good or necessary thing, as a journey, an escape, a glorious ending, or a deserved punishment. Just as I found a comic book in a mall store about a beautiful girl named Death who tells the hero “Death is a friend” and whom the hero wants to follow. The occult and death go together like hand in glove.
After his death remark, Dumbledore says truth is a “beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution” (298). So, truth should be treated with caution but death is an adventure?
Conclusions: Fantasy And The Occult
There are elements of fantasy and good story-telling in this book. At the same time, the whole story is set in an occult context with references to real occult practices and views mixed in with fantasy. The hero of the book is a wizard/witch/sorcerer whose goal is to learn how to use his powers through the occult. Much is made of the fact that the author wrote while on welfare on scraps of paper at a cafe. This makes it sound like everything is totally from her imagination. However, she did not imagine alchemy, charms, scrying, Nicolas Flamel, astrology, the Dark Side, or many of the other occult concepts and information. It is only reasonable to assume Rowling did some research or has had some exposure to occult and magical practices.
The idea of using sorcery to fight evil (or using “good” magic to fight “bad” magic) is a major component of the plot. In 1996, a movie called The Craft taught the audience that using witchcraft to fight evil is good. This movie helped to galvanize the growing Wicca/witchcraft movement and attracted a lot of teen girls to Wicca. Ask any Wiccan how to defend the practice of witchcraft, and many will respond it is okay to use one’s powers “for good.” How does this message differ from the Harry Potter books? Harry Potter, far from teaching against the occult, gives a rousing cheer for it. Those opposed to witchcraft or wizardry are mocked and painted as stupid.
We are not in a world where witches are crones with black robes and pointed hats, or where wizards and sorcerers exist only in Disney movies. We are in a world where ordinary people seriously practice witchcraft, sorcery, spells, and other occult methods. Many witches, psychics, Neo-pagans, and others involved in the occult were my clients when I practiced astrology. A June 14, 1999 article of Publishers’ Weekly Online, discusses how popular pagan books have become among younger readers. At that point, Teen Witch had sold more than 50,000 copies. Llewellyn’s director of trade sales stated his company (which publishes occult titles) started “repackaging ‘classic’ pagan titles with more youthful covers, and sales often jumped tenfold as a result” (Michael Kress, Bewitching Readers With Pagan Lore). One of the books discussed is a book on “white witchcraft.” Essential to this philosophy is to not go over to the “dark side” and practice “dark” or “black” witchcraft … exactly what is taught in Harry Potter.
There is a difference between fantasy and the occult. Fantasy can be used in a way that totally leaves out references to the occult. But this is not what happens in this book. Instead, fantasy feeds on the occult and is fueled by it. Yes, this is just a story, but stories can teach and influence. Stories can present ideas and endorse worldviews. Does this book desensitize children to the occult? What happens when they get older and encounter peers who practice magick, cast spells, and attempt spirit contact? These practices are becoming more popular, and are already widespread among adolescents.
Harry Potter glorifies the occult. God condemns the occult. Should we take lightly a book that endorses what God has so seriously forbidden?
If your children are already reading these books, then use the books as a tool to teach them from God’s Word what He says about the occult. Teach them how to share this information gently and lovingly with their friends. It is essential they be equipped to deal with the increasing acceptance of the occult in our culture.
(A) Biblical terms for occult practices: Several terms are used in both the Old and New Testaments to describe practices similar to magic and sorcery. There is an Old Testament word qacam from which comes divination in some Bible versions while in others it is translated as witchcraft. In addition, there are several Old Testament words from which one can derive sorcerer, witch, astrologer, or magician. Many of these words share origin in meaning even though the words themselves differ. For example, a word translated as “astrologer” might come from a root word meaning to “divide up the heavens.” Some words for witch, sorcerer, or casting spells in the OT come from a word meaning “to whisper or hiss, to mutter magical words or incantations; to enchant; to practice magic, to be a sorcerer, to use witchcraft”- kashaph; so the noun form, kashshaph, means “an enchanter, sorcerer or magician” [“Lexical Aids to the Old Testament,” The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible, ed., Spiros Zodhiates, AMG Publishers, 1990, p. 1737 (lexical sources on p. 1705)]. The use of this word is an onomatopeia because it is meant to sound like the hiss or whisper of one doing spells.
In the New Testament, sorcerers is used in Rev. 21:8 and 22:15 while sorceries is used in Rev. 9:21 and 22:15. The words used here (Strong’s #5332 and 5331) are pharmakeus meaning “a druggist or poisoner and by extension, a magician or sorcerer” (Strong’s, “Greek Dictionary of the New Testament,” 95). In Gal. 5:20, this same word is translated as witchcraft in the King James Version.
There is a tremendous crossover and overlap in the translation from the Hebrew and Greek into English due to the fact all these practices relate to occult arts. Giving the English translation for these words depends a lot on context and the particular occult practice which could have included many things. What is being done seems more important than an exact term for it. The most common English translations seem to be witch, sorcerer, spiritist, magician, soothsayer, and divination.
(B) Brief overview of magic/sorcery:
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). Magic is found in Egyptian papyri dating from the third and fourth centuries AD; and in Greece, magic was a combination of Greek and Egyptian influences. This included belief in creatures half-man, half-animal and in the magical power of words. 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 as sorcery, can be defined as casting spells using a special formula of words or actions to gain control and also as a technique for manipulating supernatural forces 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 science; they were priests. They were thought to possess special knowledge and so were used by rulers to interpret dreams (Zondervan, 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). Python is also listed as a related term because of its connection to the Delphi oracle. Delphi was where Apollo killed the serpent Python that guarded the oracle. Python came to mean a spirit of divination; also, a ventriloquist was believed to have this spirit in his belly. This term is used in Acts 16:16 for the girl in Philippi who had the pneuma pythona, a spirit of divination or literally, a spirit of a python (p. 558).
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