Continuing on in the review concerning the Harry Potter series, I now turn to the challenges against the series concerning witchcraft and magic. I don’t know completely about how other countries have taken to challenging the series, but coming from a Christian background, I know firsthand how many of the American Christian churches (but not all so I’ll attempt not to generalize) spoke against the Harry Potter series due to the belief that the magic in the books promote Wicca and witchcraft.
First off, Wicca. After reading the Harry Potter series I still knew nothing about this religion/cult/sect (whatever you want to call it I’ll use religion), so I had to go and look up information on it. Wicca, just Wicca, is a modern pagan religion that, yes, gets some of its theology from what we modern people would call paganism and picture in our minds as pre-Christian Europe. Wicca was introduced to the public in 1954 by Gerald Gardiner in England and he and the others in the religion seem to have gotten much of their ideas from (as I said before) ancient pagan motifs, but also 20th century hermetic motifs, such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn focused on spiritual development, and the concepts of ritual magic in Wicca seem to have derived from the Order’s practices.
Theology: From what I’ve been able to read, it seems that there are many differences in the theology of Wicca based on different traditions and individual practitioners. What, however, I will mention, seems to be the commonalities I have come across. Firstly, there is no universally agreed upon “canon” for Wicca. In other words, unlike many Western/Eastern religions like Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, there is no Holy Book. Traditionally Wicca practices a duotheistic approach (meaning they worship two gods “mono” meaning one like Christianity, “duo” meaning two, and “tri” meaning three). Their two gods happen to be a Goddess and a God. The Triple Goddess is called such as she is normally associated with the moon, stars, and earth, while the Horned God is associated the sun, forest, and animals. Like many religions, including Christianity, three is an important number. However, there are some Wiccan groups, like the Dianic Wiccans who believe in a monotheistic god (the Goddess Diana), and then there are some Wiccans who tend more towards atheistic or agnostic thinking. Some can be polytheistic, meaning they believe in many deities. There is also no satanic figure in Wicca, therefore it is not Satanism.
Afterlife: From my readings (and I’m sure I’ll be reading much more about the subject), traditionally Wiccans believe in reincarnation, though whether the reincarnation stays within a particular species or not is up for debate within the religion. Many Wiccans, as many would know through various means of pop culture, do believe in the ability to contact the dead, any spirit who is not “of this world” through various means like (stereotypically) an Ouija board or (like many horror films) a medium. This particular belief was probably influenced by the religion of Spiritualism which was prevalent and a little popular at the time Wicca emerged. There does not seem to be, however, an emphasize on the afterlife, more of a “live in the here and now” mentality within Wicca.
Magic: Now to the juicy bits. Magic, in Wicca, seems to be highly ceremonial. Meaning that in order to perform magic, the magic must be part of some sort of complex ritual that was long, elaborate, and could be found in grimoires (a brilliant word, it has character), using various tools such as daggers, bells, cups, wands, altars, etc. Before Wicca, however, other various orders/religions used such practices to do “magic” like the Golden Dawn spoken above earlier, Ordo Templi Orientis, and the Builders of Adytum which is an American group.
So back to Harry Potter.
There are no mentions of gods or goddesses in the series. Unless there’s a hidden chapter that only those who have been divinely chosen can see, there is no mention of gods or goddesses. So that aspect of Wiccan isn’t taught in the Harry Potter series.
The afterlife . . . there is mention of something after death in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when Harry is killed and wakes up in “limbo” where he is symbolically placed at Kings Cross station. However, that may also be, according to some, his own imagination coming up with the symbolism. Kings Cross is where Platform 9 ¾ is, and it’s the place where Harry catches the train to Hogwarts, his first real “home.” Therefore, symbolically, it appears in his mind as he is faced with the choice of either “getting on the train” to wherever the afterlife is, and “going back to London” meaning the land of the living. He also sees a tiny malformed, very ugly baby-not a baby creature which is supposed to represent Lord Voldemort the villain, who’s soul is caught in limbo because of his attempts to gain immortality. But, really, that could also be Rowling’s own Christian background coming out, or even a more Western view of the afterlife in general. Definitely nothing about reincarnation, it’s not taught in any of the classes, and it were true, then it wouldn’t really be sad that Remus and Nymphadora Lupin died or that Fred Weasley died because they’d just be reincarnated and that’s great and fine and gives a happy ending. No such thing. (The reincarnation in the story, there definitely is a happy ending).
Now the magic in Harry Potter. Wands, I suppose, cross from Wiccan into the series, but the way either situation goes about doing magic is completely different. Yes, there are potions in the Harry Potter series, but then again before modern medicine people made potions too. The magic in Harry Potter isn’t ritualistic. The only ritual is in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire when Lord Voldemort returns to physical form and it’s clear to anyone who reads it that this ritual is a Bit Not Good, it’s Very Bad Indeed, and that no one should Ever, Ever, Ever Attempt Such A Thing because it’s Absolutely Awful. The rest of the magic in Harry Potter is more like what children use when they play make-believe. Children (or at least I did) will shout “Abracadabra” at something and pretend their bike has changed into a pony. Or they’ll point a pen at that ugly dress their Aunt Betty gave them as yell “Bippity boppity boo!” and hope it changes into a fairytale, take me to the ball, gown. The magic in Harry Potter is similar.
You want to disarm someone?
You need water and there isn’t a water fountain in sight?
You need to find something and can’t find it? Fetch it then!
Need to pass your Boy Scout “Make a Fire” test?
Need to knock someone unconscious?
Want to hurt someone very badly (and end up in prison)?
Do you want to commit murder (and go to prison)?
There’s no ritual with the spells, except maybe you have to swish and flick the wand or jab it or fling it around like one is conducting an orchestra.
Some would still argue that the use of magic in the series would make children curious about witchcraft in general. Fine. Reading different books surrounding the Holocaust could make children curious about Judaism or Aryanism. Reading The Crucible or learning about the Salem Witch Trials in history class could just as much make a student interested in witchcraft in general than by reading Harry Potter. Just like reading The Chronicles of Narnia might possibly make a child interested in Christianity. Heaven forbid a child may want to learn about different religions and form well-rounded ideas and opinions.
Okay, so perhaps I am letting my sarcasm get ahead of me. I understand that a lot of the individual Christians who raised concerns about the Harry Potter series are really trying to protect their kids, and try and teach them how to live life in a good, proper way. I respect that, I really do. Some of the people who opposed the Harry Potter series at my church and school I greatly respect because I know they’re only interest was in ensuring we kids had the most wholesome life and education we could get. But at the same time, there is such a thing as being ridiculous about something. I remember telling my high school English teacher that if she had a problem with Harry Potter because and only because of the magic, to take The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings off the shelf because they had magic too. (I’m still surprised I didn’t get a detention).
So maybe after reading this post you, as the parent, aren’t still convinced your kid should read Harry Potter. That’s fine. Maybe you, as the student, now have some idea how to talk to your parents about why you should read the series, or dispel their fears about the series. A family close to mine have decided they’re going to wait until their daughter reaches the 8th grade before letting her read the series, because after researching, they’ve decided that it’s more age appropriate for that grade. Awesome.
Just don’t go leading a crusade unless you’ve done your research. And don’t go insulting another person’s religion. You don’t have to agree with it. That’s no excuse to be rude.
Age Rating: Personally, I think anyone who is 4th grade and up can start reading the series. Especially is the student is above their grade level in reading. Also, this is a great series for adults, don’t be ashamed to read it.
*I consulted Wikepedia and the book The New Believers: A Survey of Sects, Cults, and Alternative Religions by David V. Barrett. If any of you have further reading you recommend let me know in either an email (found on the Bio page) or in the comments below.