Many people have written a great deal about the Harry Potter books, so my comments may seem like a poor addition to an already well-worked area. However, in response to a request for my opinion, I submit the following, and encourage the reader to look elsewhere for a more comprehensive and detailed review.
A brief synopsis of the first book.
We first meet Harry in ‘The Sorcerer’s Stone’. He’s a 10-year old orphan living with parents who despise him. It’s not until his 11th birthday that Harry learns he has magical abilities and a rather interesting past. When he was only a baby, his parents were both killed while trying to fight the most evil wizard on earth, Lord Voldemort. Miraculously, Harry the baby escaped the wicked wizard with only a lightning bolt-shaped scar on his forehead and little memory of the incident.
After the death of his parents, Harry is forced to live with his aunt and uncle. They don't want him. They find him to be an irritating intrusion, and do not like anything associated with Harry or his parents.
Identified as a wizard. Harry is invited to enroll at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The Dursleys, Harry's relatives, are more than happy to get him out of the house. It's here that Harry realizes the significance of his past.
Hogwarts is an enchanted place, invisible to Muggles (non-magical people). Hogwarts offers classes like broomstick riding and care of magical creatures. During his first year at Hogwarts, Harry begins to develop his skills and comprehend the depth of his talent. He quickly becomes a top player of Quidditch, a game similar to soccer but played on flying broomsticks.
But Harry learns more than just the mechanics of wizardry at Hogwarts. Beyond the spells and potions, Hogwarts is a place for students to learn the importance of friendship, honesty and loyalty. Harry meets two friends, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, as well as the class bully, Draco Malfoy. Here, Harry gains self-confidence as he learns to think for himself and make important decisions. He battles the class bully and eventually comes face to face with his archenemy Voldemort. In the end, with great strength and courage, Harry prevails – just as we knew he would because, after all, he’s the hero.
The next three books in the series, ‘The Chamber of Secrets’, ‘The Prisoner of Azkaban and the ‘Goblet of Fire’, take Harry on new, sometimes frightening adventures, and we are allowed a glimpse into the inner struggles he must go through to develop into a mature young man.
I have been to the first two Potter movies, and enjoyed them thoroughly. They were full of fun, humour and visual delights, and the main characters were all very entertaining, though rather stereotypical. In my opinion, the Potter stories are on much the same level as the Enid Blyton Famous Five stories. Rather innocuous, slightly shabby, and uninspiring but a good read for a normal, balanced kid. Their equivalent is found in the adventure annuals of the past, and the Indiana ones type stories, Biggles and so on, which have been the main diet of millions through the years. Full of froth and bubble, signifying very little.
As a conservative Christian I was initially concerned about the Harry Potter stories, so initially I looked for direct or clear occult ‘teachings’ in the movies, but after some careful examination I had to admit that I could not find any, although I can see how some other Christians have inferred occult teaching by interpreting certain scenes that way. The magic I encountered through both movies was simply a re-run of already stereotyped magic – pointed hats, spells, magic words, owls, elfish characters, invisibility blankets, magic mirrors, wands and so on – all the tools of the trade when it comes to kid’s entertainment.
On the other hand, if one looks, one can find examples of courage, loyalty, and a willingness to sacrifice one’s self for another, the bonds of friendship, forgiveness, reconciliation, and there is always the age-old pattern of evil being vanquished by good. The heroes always triumph over great odds, and the stories always have a happy ending. If it was otherwise I would be disturbed. The whole universe is part of this pattern. God is Good, and His Will is invincible. Satan and all his followers will one day be destroyed, leaving goodness to reign – Harry’s stories follow the same pattern.
The author, J.K.Rowling has said she has no intention of drawing children into the occult. Of the magic and wizardry she says she, “My wizarding world is a world of the imagination. I think it’s a moral world.” Of course we don’t have to believe her, but the proof is in her stories, and they certainly seem to verify her words. When we compare what Harry’s books tell us about the occult, with what the Bible says, the difference is very clear. The Bible warns us against certain things, which are quite specific, whereas one would have to look very hard to find these things in Harry’s adventures.
The Bible definition of a witch.
“There shall not be found among you anyone that makes his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that uses divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch” Deuteronomy 18:10
“A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them.” Leviticus 20:27
“Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.” Deuteronomy 18:11
The Hebrew for ‘witcraft’ is m’khasepah, or m’khaseph, which means an evil sorceress or sorcerer, a person who uses spoken spells in secret to harm or kill other people. They were greatly feared by the Israelites because they believed there was no defense against the spells.
What the Bible here strictly denounces is the real occult. What we find in Harry’s books is a low level, stereotypical type of magic. Magic is not the occult. To confuse the two is to 1. Do J.K.Rowling a disservice, 2. Reveal a poor understanding of the real occult. I think Christians who jump in and start shouting ‘occult! without thinking first, lose credibility. Harry’s world is kid’s stuff. It is full of traditional, and quite silly magic, on par with Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, elves, goblins, dragons and other fantastical characters and creatures that have entertained children for hundreds of years. When some extreme-view adults come along and find sinister and occult aspects in Harry’s books, they are following the same inappropriate path that some people followed a few years ago when they tried to ban Noddy because it supposedly depicted racism and immorality. “To the pure all things are pure, and to the unclean all things are unclean – in other words, people tend to see what they want to, and what people see is usually a reflection of what is already in their hearts. In another useful illustration, “Two men looked from the prison bars, one saw dirt and one saw stars.” What we are trying to say here is that sometimes the observations we make are more a revelation of what we are like rather than what we are observing. When it comes to Harry Potter the principle holds true – those who are overly liberal will see no harm in most things, while those who are rigidly orthodox will see potential danger in almost everything.
An example of the rigid orthodox view comes from a Mr. Armstrong, “The Harry Potter books are full of enchantments and evil spells. These enchantments and spells . . .are produced by the aid of demons which are evil in the sight of God.” And this from a man who said he has never even read the books. Furthermore, where in any Potter book do we find Potter calling on demons for help?
A Christian magazine, the ‘Crusader’ said, “I think the Harry Potter books are an attempt by Wiccans (i.e. witches) to recruit young children into the practices of witchcraft.”
Another anti-Potter writer put the following words on the Internet, “Why do we allow our children to wear Potter’s evil lightning bolt tattoo on their forehead? The lightning bolt represents “a powerful curse.” This symbol is of the wicked Voldemort. It is interesting also to note that the lightning illustration is found also in the Book of Luke as a symbol of Satan – Luke 10:18.”
Frances Donovan, hostess of the About Guide to Pagan/Wiccan Religion, says the following: "First of all, let me say that witches, Wiccans, and pagans are absolutely not interested in "recruiting" or converting anyone to our religion. We believe that all religious traditions have merit and celebrate the fact that there are so many different ones to choose from. Those who are called to the path will come when they're ready. I have read one of the Harry Potter books and found it good fun, but it has almost nothing to do with what witches actually do. Pagans do not, in general, possess any "special powers". We certainly don't enchant flying cars or travel through our fireplaces. We simply celebrate the magic and energy inherent in Creation."
Allgeier, a 57year old witch in
A third opinion comes from Chad Anctil of the Witches' League for Public Awareness. "It (the Potter story) portrays witches in positive ways ... but it does not portray my religious beliefs," "it is difficult for the religion to be taken seriously when books like this portray it as magic."
Where are the real dangers?
Some Christians keep their children away from books with talking
animals; some guard them from stories where animals wear clothes. I have met
people who reject Rupert the Bear, and Asterix,
because of the magic in the stories, or, in the case of Asterix,
the magic potion. Extreme Christian parents will not allow their children to
watch cartoons, or enjoy anything with fantasy in it, including ‘Fairy Stories’
and Nursery Rhymes. I am not criticizing these parents, because that is their
business, but it seems to me that it is quite unreasonable to reject, in the
case of Potter, what is actually a fake occult, when it is the real occult the
parents ought to be focused on. True occult practices are not found in Harry’s
books. One might as well label the classic
And here is a very curious thing. While it would be most unusual
for a Christian bookstore to place Potter books on its shelves, because of the
so-called occult connection, what do we actually find on the shelves of many
Christian bookstores? We find books about theistic evolution, and books which
attack and undermine the faith – written of course in the best intellectual
language, by professors and the like. We find kid’s books, which portray the
This is such an inconsistent attitude – an untenable duality. Surely children are not so stupid as to know that animals do not wear clothes or talk? Surely the context of the magic in the imaginary tales is obviously spurious? And when it comes to the fantastical rubbish sold in some Christian bookshops, doesn’t this point out how lazy and apathetic many Christians must be when it comes to real Bible study?
One sorcerer mentioned in the Bible was called Simon:
“But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one:” Acts 8:9
The Greek for “sorcery” is ‘pharmakia’ (from which we get Pharmacy). A sorcerer was someone who used medicine, drugs, spells and occasionally poisons. These people were criminals in that they murdered people by administering poisons. Sorcery is listed as one of the “works of the flesh” in Gal.5:20. Some versions translate this to mean ‘participate in demonic activity’. Vines says, “In sorcery, the use of drugs, whether simple or potent, was generally accompanied by incantations and appeals to occult powers, with the provision of various charms, amulets, etc., professedly designed to keep the applicant or patient from the attention and power of demons, but actually to impress the applicant with the mysterious resources and powers of the sorcerer.”
There are spells in Harry’s books, but no appeals to occult powers. There are incantations, but they are silly words, drawn from the Latin, such as “Illuminus” to make the end of a wand light up, or “Riddikulus” to make an ogre (a boggart) turn into something silly. These incantations are as silly as “Open Sesame!” to make a cave door roll aside.
There are many types of witch. Some people call themselves by this name but really have no idea what it means. They are fake witches who enjoy feeling a bit special, and different from other people. Then there are ‘witches’ who dabble with the fun and excitement of the idea. They wear traditional clothes, and they follow the storybook traditions, but once again, they completely miss the reality. The third kind of ‘witch’ is also called ‘wiccan’, which is a word carrying the meaning of ‘wisdom’ – hence ‘wickerwork’ baskets and furniture.
The wiccan religion is earth-based, and it worships various deities. They follow a rule known as the Wiccan Rede: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” In modern language, this rule translates to “Do your own thing.” Some people say something similar, “It’s my life and I’ll do what I want with it.” Kids say, “I’m the boss of me!” Unlike the true wiccans, or witches, Harry’s stories never show any loyalty to any deities, or gods, or occult rulers. There is no mention of them, and no worship of them. Wiccans believe the Rede, so they do whatever they CAN do. There is no restraint for true wiccans. If they can do it, they do do it. Harry’s books are quite different. The Hogwarts school program is designed to teach the young witches and wizards the proper and responsible use of their powers, and the consequences of misuse.
Wiccans are very interested in the environment. There is nothing in the Potter books so far) which would indicate environmental awareness. True wiccans are pantheistic. Potter books avoid the subject of God or gods. Wiccans usually never put spells on other people because they believe in ‘The Law of Threefold Return’ which says that whatever spell they may cast will also return on themselves with ‘interest’. Potter characters show no such fear.
True wiccans have nothing to do with flying carpets, dragons, trolls, magic wands, pointy hats, clothes with stars and moons on them, and broomsticks, as the Potter characters do. But when some Potter characters do share activities with wiccans, the practices are ridiculed. For example Professor Dumbledor points out to the students that the divination teacher makes the same unsuccessful predictions year after year.
Wiccans believe they are channeling the natural energy of the Earth and living things. The Potter characters never try to draw power from the Earth – they have the power in them. They go to Hogwarts because they need to understand and discipline their powers, and while there they are taught such things as personal responsibility for their decisions. The school is as much about character development as training in proper use of power.
So what does a real witch look like?
I happen to have met a few true wiccans. They were nice people – nice in the sense of being intelligent, thoughtful, caring, and environmentalist. They wore ordinary clothes, they had jobs, they were interested in the world, they mixed with non-wiccan people. If they had pets, they always cared for them. You may possibly pass a wiccan every time you walk through a busy street. They don’t have flying cars, and they don’t catch trains inside brick walls. One wiccan woman I knew very well was one of the nicest people you could meet, and though (obviously) not a Christian, had high moral standards, and was dearly missed when she died because of her benevolence. Her funeral was just a memorial. Her body was donated to medical science. She was a vegetarian. Her home was very thin on furniture and possessions but her treasures were photographs and mementos of people (and places) she had known.
The purpose of the Potter books.
1. To entertain kids.
2. To make money for the author.
The stories so far all follow well-worn ethical paths. They show that it is better to do good than evil, that evil cannot ultimately beat good, that it is important to be true to yourself, that courage, loyalty and so on are worthwhile, that actions have consequences, that to be good at something you must study and practice hard, that cheats never prosper . . . all these qualities can be found in all good stories. The Famous Five always demonstrated these qualities. You’ll also find them in The Little Mermaid, Pocahontas, Dumbo, King Arthur, Chronicles of Narnia, Wizard of Oz, Sleeping Beauty, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Lilo and Stitch, Jack and the Beanstalk, Monsters Inc, Ice Age, Cinderella, Pinocchio, Noddy and so on.
Harry Potter books work on mainly one level only. They are rather mediocre, very stereotypical, and superficial. Here is not much ‘underneath’ the stories, but that may also be a strong point. Many kids don’t want to read something which forces them to see more than just a good story. Harry’s adventures are not allegorical – like the Chronicles of Narnia. When you finish a Potter book you go away with a good story – a ripping yarn – and probably a smile. When you read a Narnia book you start to understand deeper things, about God, about Christianity, about our place in the universe. There is no Aslan in Potter’s life, no thrones, no resurrection, no scenes of Christ breathing creation into being. Potter is just Potter, and as such he reflects much of the flat, materialistic attitude many people have about life today. Materialism and hedonism combine to produce an hour or two of entertainment in a theatre, and everyone leaves with a smile – no wiser about the meaning of life than when they went in.
Some real dangers in the Potter books.
1. Many kids will spend days and weeks reading them, to the exclusion of better quality material. Like comics, and TV cartoons, Potter is going to consume large chunks of millions of children’s lives. This may be a great waste of time compared to what these kids might have done with the same time. (This is a relative argument and very difficult to qualify or defend.)
2. Potter stories sometimes (but infrequently) depict adults as stupid. Non-magic people are called ‘muggles’ and as such are derided. This is unfair discrimination. Magical people seem to be that way by inheritance, not by sheer training, so there are no grounds for such discrimination.
3. The ability, or power within the Hogwarts students seems to be ‘neutral’, as in the Star Wars ‘force’. This is deceptive in that it implies that there is no such thing as good or evil, just a ‘neutral’ force which can be used either way.
As a Christian father, I have warned my two children many times about counterfeits and deceptions, and tried to show them the Christian worldview. I believe if children are grounded in the Scriptures they have nothing to fear from the world or Satan and his tricks. I have also promoted alternative material, such as the Chronicles of Narnia and many other good books, songs, events, productions, trips, movies and so on. After all, life is short, and if we are going to use it up we might as well spend our time in company with the best quality input we can find. What we are as people is partly a result of what we feed into our minds.
Having said this, I would not heartily recommend the Potter books to children, because I think there is much better material available to keep them occupied, but if they must read Potter, then I will not be one of those extremists who shouts “occult!” at them. As an evangelist I can always find some way of using Potter to point kids to Jesus, so rather than ruin my chances through ignorant comments, I will look for ways to build bridges. This essay is one of those ways.