[Note: To get the fullest view of what is being said about the Harry Potter books, please read the article on the first Harry Potter book, “Harry Potter, Sorcery, and Fantasy,” and the article on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th books,”Harry Potter: A Journey to Power.” This article is neither a book review nor a summary, but rather an overview of problematic themes in the 5th book. It is written, with no apologies, from a Christian and Biblical point of view. As a former professional astrologer for many years and as someone who was involved in occult practices, I reject the popular notion that the Harry Potter books are harmless because they are fiction. Fantasy itself is a fine vehicle for literature, but what it consists of and teaches should be evaluated. Please do not email me and tell me I want to ban Harry Potter. I do not support banning Harry Potter. I am merely using my freedom of speech rights in an attempt to fairly critique the books. I welcome polite and thoughtful feedback.]
“Ultimately symbolism means nothing if the characters don’t embody — either in a positive or negative light — the morals and ethics that are desired. Would the symbolism of the Narnia series be significant in the desired way if the heroes were little rats?” (L A Solinas, fantasy fan and online reviewer, used with permission by email, 7/4/03).
“Git” – Noun. An idiot or contemptible person. (from “A Dictionary of Slang”) http://www.peevish.co.uk/slang/g.htm
The comment above and the definition of “git” give a pretty good idea of the fifth book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, as well as the other books. I am not hurling the word “git” at anyone – it is hurled by Harry and his friends at others in the books.
As for the comment on symbolism, many have made unusual efforts at giving the Harry Potter books Christian symbolism. Although these attempts are without any substance, in my view, there still remains the problem of the character of the characters, so to speak. With lying, cheating, disobedience, drugging and other immoral acts rife amongst Harry and his friends, whatever symbolism may be grasped at is with little merit when the books’ characters themselves lack any lasting core of morality. The theme that the ends justify the means continues in this book.
This latest book offers nothing hopeful to the reader searching for Harry as a moral role model or for seeking any indication that practice of the occult is regrettable, the two main problems in the previous four books. Examples of these problems are given in this article. When page numbers are given, it does not mean that all the relevant examples are given for that topic. Sometimes the examples are too numerous to list. This article uses page numbers from the 2003 Warner Bros. Edition in hardback.
Harry is disrespectful and rude to adults and to many of his peers throughout the book. His language and those of his friends is less than charming; he is sarcastic, he shouts, he and his friends use words like “dammit” (77) and “git” (194, 299), Harry swears (735), and the infamous Uranus joke from a previous book is used again. Though he is reprimanded at times, Harry is not one for moral regrets. Even Ron, Harry’s friend, points out that Harry gets away with everything (156).
Sirius, Harry’s beloved godfather and protector, tells his dead mother (but who “lives” and “talks” in a portrait), “Shut up, you horrible old hag, shut up!” and shows and expresses a vehement hatred for her (78, 109-111). It is true that apparently Sirius’ mother was not pleasant and was on the side of evil, but from a Christian viewpoint, one should not speak like this about one’s mother, however bad she may have been. To even set up a situation like this in a children’s book is somewhat disturbing.
Immorality and Lying
Harry continues his pattern of cheating, disobedience, and desire for revenge. It is natural for someone to want revenge on those who hurt you, but it is not a behavior condoned by God. In fact, most Christians know that taking revenge is wrong and, therefore, they should be bothered by Harry’s naked hatred, contempt for certain characters, and desires for revenge in this book. Harry gets back at his cousin Dudley by taunting him (13); Harry points his wand in anger at Seamus (218); Harry wants to place a magical curse on Malfoy (638); Ginny places a disgusting curse on Malfoy (760); James (Harry’s father) and Sirius are shown in their younger years taunting Snape (646-648); the professors at Hogwarts do not discourage the ghost, Peeves, from playing mean tricks, and one even encourages it (678); Harry and Ron are indifferent to a curse placed on a student, even when Hermione is concerned it might be permanent – “Who cares?” is Ron’s response (679); Harry swears at Luna (735); Harry attempts to kill Bellatrix, who had killed Sirius (809); Harry has an almost overwhelming hatred of Professor Snape (529, 591, and 832-833); Hermione jinxes a student so she can’t speak (613), yet a few pages later, Dumbledore hypocritically scolds the villain Umbridge for “manhandling” the students (616). There is only one mention of Harry feeling guilty and it’s when he wonders if he should have given his Triwizard winnings (from the tournament that he cheated on when preparing for it) to Fred and George Weasley (172).
Harry and Ron cheat and pass their subjects by copying Hermione’s notes (229); Hermione does Harry and Ron’s homework (299, 300); Fred and George, Ron’s brothers, drug students (253) among many other rebellious and sometimes dangerous stunts; Harry’s godfather, Sirius, encourages disobedience (371); and Harry, Ron, and Hermione sneak out of Hogwarts against the rules (420). Ironically, Harry and Hermione are banking on Harry not being expelled for using his wand around Muggles because they see the exception for this “if they [Ministry of Magic] abide by their own laws,” (75). In other words, Harry and friends count on others to uphold the rules and laws when it favors them, but when Harry wants to flout the rules for his own purposes, he sees no problem with this. It is one of the great ironies of the book, and it reveals a relativistic morality that is ingrained in all the books.
One of Harry’s key problems has been his tendency to lie and to have no problem with it. This showed up strongly in the second book and has continued in the other books. Harry lies for all kinds of reasons – to cover his real feelings, which is sometimes understandable (64, 173), when he is scared about something confusing to him (475, 591), to protect Sirius (742 – one of the rare instances when it is justified); but he also lies to cover up things he’s done (611) or has not done (638), and lies out of meanness to his friend Ron (682). He even experiences a “vindictive pleasure” in telling the lie to Ron. All of us have lied, but we supposedly have learned it is wrong, or have suffered consequences for it. This does not happen to Harry. The adults do not reprimand him for this and sometimes even engage in it themselves. In fact, Dumbledore tells Harry to lie in one instance (611), and lies himself to Fudge, head of the Ministry of Magic (618). While it is true that at times they are trying to avoid some dangerous situations or people, the lies are not always for this reason. If the author can set up situations where Harry or Dumbledore must lie to protect someone, cannot the author set up situations where Harry can learn that, in most cases, lying is wrong?
It has become a hallmark of the Harry Potter books for the “good” characters to lie and cheat with aplomb when necessary, thus signaling a lax attitude towards the value of truth and the moral need to avoid lying. In fact, Harry’s adventures and heroic deeds almost seem to demand cheating and lying, as though one cannot be heroic without doing these things. I receive much feedback from younger people (pre-teens and teens) angrily reprimanding me for being upset about Harry’s lying and cheating. Because he is doing “good” deeds and being brave, they tell me, Harry should be allowed these transgressions. This disturbs me and causes me to wonder if these future adults are learning that in order to do good or be brave, not only is it okay to lie and cheat, but maybe it’s to be expected. It is relativism gone amok.
Death and Other Dark Items
As with the other books, this fifth book has numerous references to death and the danger of death. Of course, this is not abnormal in an adventure book, but should death be so prominent in a book aimed at children ages 9-12? Many would say that death is a part of life and that this is, after all, just fiction. However, Biblically speaking, we know that death is not a part of life, it was a consequence of sin (see Genesis 2:17, 3:19; Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:21) and will one day be vanquished into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14)
I began to list the pages that referred to death or to someone dying, but finally wearied of this task as the references became too numerous. I managed to mark these pages: 8, 18, 85, 92, 100, 112, 161, 173-176, 328, 446 (“The only people who can see thestrals . . . are people who have seen death”), 455, 535, 536, 546, 550, 806 (Sirius dies), 844, 856, and 863. On pages 173-175, Harry is viewing photographs shown to him by Moody of people who were killed, and comments are made, some rather grim: “Benjy Fenwick, he copped it, too, we only ever found bits of him;” “it took five Death Eaters to kill him and his brother Fabian;” and “the Longbottoms, who had been tortured into madness. . all waving happily out of the photograph forevermore, not knowing that they were doomed.” Boggarts, creatures that can look like others, appear to Mrs. Weasley as dead members of her family, causing her to believe she is viewing actual dead people (176). Harry is told by Dumbledore that there is a prophecy that for Voldemort and Harry, “neither can live while the other survives” (844). Luna’s mother is dead because one of her (the mother’s) spells “went rather badly wrong one day” (863).
Some of the disturbing accounts other than death that are woven throughout the book are: The students learn to make a potion that relaxes, but if not made correctly, it can cause “irreversible” sleep (232); a ghost “leans through” Neville (207); Harry writes in blood (267, 270); several references are made to blood dripping from Harry (274); butterbeer, a favored drink among the students, is alcoholic (387) and is even served by an adult, Sirius, to young Harry, Ron, and Ginny, and to slightly older teens Fred and George (477); Harry seems to be psychically possessed by Voldemort in the form of a snake (462-63, 474, 481, 491); Harry and Hermione are showered with blood from Hagrid’s sibling, Grawp (759); and Harry questions the ghost Headless Nick about where one goes after death, but the only response is that some wizards can leave a pale “imprint” of themselves on earth as a ghost, and that other dead ones are beyond a veil and can be heard by some (860-861, 863).
Occult Practices: Prophets, Psychics, and Spells
The most comprehensive list of occult practices occurs in Deuteronomy 18:10-12, where God reveals his hatred of occult practices and forbids them. These practices were done in conjunction with the worship of false gods. Today, many dabble in the occult out of sheer curiosity or for fun, but whatever the intentions, such practices are dangerous, and are evil in God’s eyes. Some have defended these practices in the books because there is no attempt to make contact with a god or supernatural power. However, this view neglects the fact that whether one wants to make such contact or not, contact can be made, and often is, even when one is not expecting it. Aside from this, when God calls something detestable or an abomination, we can easily conclude that no one is to participate for any reason.
The list in this passage of Deuteronomy includes casting spells, divination, spirit contact, contacting the dead, witchcraft (meaning practicing occult arts), sorcery, and seeking and reading omens. The Hebrew terms for these practices are descriptive rather than being labels; so various English versions may use different words for the same practice. One translation puts it this way: “one who practices divination, an omen reader, a soothsayer, a sorcerer, one who casts spells, one who conjures up spirits, a practitioner of the occult, or a necromancer” (NET Bible, 372; online at www.netbible.org). The footnote on casting spells states that in Hebrew this is literally “a binder of binding,” with the connotation that one is immobilizing or binding someone by using magical words. As pointed out in my article on the first Harry Potter book, Harry’s friends use a “body-bind” spell on a friend to keep him from following them (273). In that article, I also pointed out that a binding spell is found in the Farrar’s A Witches’ Bible.
The NET Bible gives selected verses elsewhere (not a comprehensive list) where the practices from this passage are mentioned, sometimes translated differently according to context (such as “incantations” and “amulets” used to ward off evil). For divination, see Numbers 22:7, 23:23; Joshua 13:22; 1 Sam 6:2, 15:23; 28:8. For an omen reader, see Leviticus 19:26, Judges 9:37, 2 Kings 21:6; Isaiah 2:6, 57:3, Jeremiah 27:9; Micah 5:11. For a seeker of omens (often translated as “soothsayer”), it refers to Gen. 44:5 (the divining cup in the Joseph story, which does not mean Joseph used it, but it was used in that culture). For a sorcerer, passages are Leviticus 19:26-31; 2 Kings 17:15-17, 21:1-7; Isaiah 57:3. For casting spells, see Psalms 58:6 and Isaiah 47:9, 12. For conjuring up spirits (asking of the dead), Leviticus 19:31, 20:6; 1 Samuel 28:8, 9; Isaiah 8:19, 19:3, and 29:4 are referred to. For a practitioner of the occult, see Leviticus 19:31, 20:6, 27; 1 Samuel 28:3, 9; 2 Kings 21:6; Isaiah 8:19, and 19:3. For a necromancer, 1 Samuel 28:6-7 is referenced. In many cases, several terms refer to the same practices. Intentions and fine distinctions between the practices do not matter; entering into this territory is to cross a line God has clearly drawn in the sand.
Hogwarts, however, teaches many of these practices and Harry is learning them: divination, charms, casting spells, and potions (magical potions which are used in conjunction with spells); and in some of the books, children arm themselves with talismans and amulets for protection (notably, the second book, page 185). Divinatory practices include the children or Harry learning astrology, runes, arithmancy, tea leaf reading, and scrying (gazing into a surface such as a mirror, crystal, or water). This fifth book mentions that children will be tested in their skills with the crystal ball, tea leaf reading, arithmancy, theory of charms, astrology, divination by burning herbs and leaves, incantations, wands, potions, the Ancient Runes, and palmistry (225, 232, 552, 600, 602, 603, 654, 709, 711-712, 715-717). Hermione excitedly receives a Christmas gift from Harry that she has been wanting — a book on numerology (503). Some people have made much of the fact that Christmas is “celebrated” in the books, but it is clearly not being celebrated in a Christian fashion. In an earlier book, the lyrics of Christmas songs are substituted with rude words, and here we have a numerology book as a Christmas gift. This is not evidence for a Christian meaning of Christmas.
It is often pointed out that divination is made fun of in the books, and this is true. But, however much Divination Professor Trelawney is made to look foolish, some of her predictions come true; and at the end of the book when Ron is criticizing divination, we read: “‘How can you say that?’ Hermione demanded. ‘After we’ve just found out that there are real prophecies?'” (849). Indeed, the prophecy that is revealed at the end of the book and on which the whole plot of the book is turning, was made by Trelawney (841). These are not Biblical prophecies, but prophecies made through divination. God condemns this kind of prophecy: “So don’t listen to your prophets or to those who claim to predict the future by divination, by dreams, by consulting the dead, or by practicing magic” (Jeremiah 27:9a). God spoke through prophets whom he chose, and, furthermore, the test of a prophet was that predictions would be 100 percent accurate (Deuteronomy 18:20-22). Even if prophets give true predictions but call people to follow gods other than the true God, one is to reject them (Deuteronomy 13:1-3).
Casting spells is a strong theme in all of the books, especially in this one. Books on spells are read (160, 390, 501). Spells are practiced throughout the book, and the students practice and are tested on them (710-717). Spells are used against the villains in a big battle at the end (787-792, 796ff) in a scene I like to think of as the Battle of the Dueling Wands. There is hexing (400), jinxing (354), magical curses (515), and psychic dreams (462-63) which are later explained as Harry’s mind being invaded by Voldemort. “Ancient spells and charms” supposedly protect Hogwarts (531). The Pensieve (a container for thoughts) is engraved with “runes and symbols” (529). In actual sorcery, runes are often carved or engraved on occult tools for the purpose of magically empowering them.
Harry secretly teaches a class on Defense Against the Dark Arts for some students (393-395 and elsewhere). Harry does not always use his wand responsibly – he uses it to scare Dudley (13), to threaten his uncle (28), when he’s mad at Seamus (218); and several students using magic taught to them by Harry attack Malfoy and his two cronies, turning them into slug like creatures, and hang them from a luggage rack where they are left to ooze (864).
Harry teaches the students of his class how to conjure a Patronus (606-607), entities conjured up for protection. Harry learned in the third book how to do this, and my article, “Harry Potter: A Journey to Power” explains the occult connection to this on page 2 of the online article.
To prevent Voldemort from invading and using Harry’s mind, Harry takes occlumency lessons from Prof. Snape (519ff). The idea and techniques behind this are somewhat reminiscent of the psychic technique of visualizing a white light for protection, and of the Zen technique of emptying the mind. I once practiced both of those techniques. Many in the Occult and in the New Age believe that there are people who can psychically drain you or attach themselves to you, and certain techniques are taught to avoid this. Occlumency seems to be derived from, or at the least recalls, these ideas.
What protected Harry from Voldemort? Dumbledore explains that when Harry’s mother died for him, her death acted as a protective charm that saved him (835). By placing Harry in his mother’s sister’s home, Harry was protected further by his mother’s blood (flowing in the veins of her sister, Harry’s aunt) and thus his safety was ensured. Doing this “sealed the charm” (835). Far from being a picture of how Christ saves us through his sacrifice on the cross, as some have claimed (once again, reaching for Christian symbolism), this presents an occult view of what Harry’s mother did. Her death was, or became, an act of magic.
We are not magically protected by Christ or by his blood; his blood is not a magical property. Because of what Christ did, we are saved from the second death and redeemed through our faith in Christ. Faith has nothing to do with what Harry’s mother did nor with Harry’s protection, since he does not understand this protection until the end of the fifth book. And what would Harry have faith in? His mother? No, it would be in the magical protection that continues in her sister’s blood after her death. Of course, Harry’s mother was not sinless as Christ was; she died for only one person, Harry; she did not plan her death as Christ did; she died to protect Harry’s life, not to redeem him from sin; and she did not bodily resurrect and conquer death as Jesus did. The analogy is flawed in the extreme.
Harry and Voldemort: Dark and Light
As explained in the other two articles, there is a concept of dark and light in the occult called polarity. Generally speaking, magic (sometimes spelled magick) or power is neutral, and one can be on the dark or light side depending on your intentions and how you use the magic or power. The dark and light sides are both parts of the whole and are necessary to each other’s existence. Therefore, there is no goal of the light side vanquishing the dark side. The CANA article, “The Dark Side,” explains this in depth.
The dark and light sides of a polarity are connected since they are both part of the whole, so there is often a connection between them. This can be seen in the yin-yang symbol, which shows a black dot on the white side (yin on yang) and a white dot on the black side (yang on yin). In the Harry Potter books, Harry and the villain, Lord Voldemort, seem to represent this polarity of dark and light. They are connected in many ways: Voldemort marked Harry with his scar when he tried to kill baby Harry; Harry feels a connection to Voldemort through the scar which burns or hurts when Voldemort is near or is endangering Harry or someone he loves; Harry and Lord Voldemort both speak “parselmouth,” the language of snakes; Harry and Voldemort’s wands both contain the feather of the same bird; and, most grisly of all, some of Harry’s blood is put into Voldemort via a cauldron when Voldemort is being embodied in a ritual in the 4th book, so Voldemort has some of Harry’s blood.
These connections show up even more strongly in this book. Not only does his scar burn (178, 275, 474, 586, 728) as a result of this connection (which Dumbledore validates on page 827), but Harry also experiences a psychic connection in what seems to be a case of reading Voldemort’s mind (380-382). Snape tells Harry that when he is at his most vulnerable, asleep or relaxed, he is able to share Voldemort’s thoughts and emotions (531). Because of this, Snape warns, Voldemort may be able to read Harry’s thoughts and control him that way (533). Harry has a dream or vision in which he is a snake who attacks Mr. Weasley (462-463); it turns out that Mr. Weasley really was attacked this way (473-475). Harry has dreams or telepathic visions, in which he seems to be looking into Voldemort’s mind, seeing and hearing him (584-586; 727-728). At one point, he seems to be possessed by Voldemort (815-816). Dumbledore tells Harry that when Voldemort tried to kill him as a baby, he inadvertently gave Harry some of his powers, marking Harry “as an equal” (842-843).
The source of power for Harry and Voldemort (and Dumbledore) is the same. Power and magic are, after all, neutral in this view. Voldemort was once at Hogwarts and was an apt pupil. He went over to the dark side, much as Anakin (the young Darth Vader) does in the Star Wars movies. God’s word, however, does not mention using magic for bad ends or the dark side of sorcery; God condemns all magical practices, all sorcery, and all spell casting. In reality, there is no dark or light side of magic; there is no white or black magic; there is only magic and it is all against God. Our intentions and beliefs cannot make it good.
Harry Potter and Culture
The issue of reality vs. fantasy is irrelevant. Fiction is a powerful conveyor of ideas; our culture constantly tells us this as it points out the power of myth and stories. The issue of how the book affects each child must also be considered with how these books have already affected the culture.
After the early success of Harry Potter, four publishers announced they would put out books with wizard or witch heroes for teens and preteens. One account relates, “Scholastic publisher and editor in chief Jean Feiwel said the new series have merely tapped into an increased teen interest in witches. ‘It’s almost gotten – dare I say it – acceptable,’ Feiwel said. There’s no doubt that fantasy and wizards have become more popular because of Harry Potter'” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 8/8/01).
If one goes to the Scholastic website (Scholastic publishes the Harry Potter books in the U.S.) and looks up their series, T*witches, about teen witches, you can find an invitation to send in spells to keep the “spellbook” going. The spellbook page organizes spells into various categories, including: moon spells, homework spells, love spells, protection spells, summer bliss spells, etc. The spells reveal poems to the goddess and spells calling on various forces of nature. Karsh’s Magick Tips on the site gives advice on how to cast spells, including suggestions to “go outside and work with Mother Nature,” and getting a book to learn about the properties of herbs for use in magick (the site uses an occult spelling for magick).
Good and Bad on the Scale
It is not that this book has nothing good in it, such as Dumbledore acknowledging to Harry that he cared more for Harry’s happiness than for the truth, and so did not tell Harry about the important prophecy and why Voldemort had tried to kill Harry when he was a baby (838). Harry wants to protect his friends and offers to teach them skills to defend themselves against the Dark Arts. And Harry is brave in many confrontations with the villains.
But these and some other incidents are very tiny slivers of light in the otherwise wasteland of spells, lies, deception, death, grisly scenes, and occult practices. When put on a scale, the bad side of this book easily outweighs any of the good from a moral or Biblical view.
What should we expect when the main setting for the book is a wizard who is studying at a school where they teach spells, divination, magical potions, and other occult techniques, and whose mentor is a powerful wizard (practitioner of the occult)? The fact that it is fiction does not take away from the reality of the occult practices.
Harry, as the hero, should model behavior that we would want children to learn from or emulate. However, since Harry has no remorse and few consequences from lying and cheating, and since he does not seem to grow wiser in goodness, there is only amorality presented to the readers. Being brave and loyal to friends is admirable, but these qualities by themselves are not moral since anyone – good or bad — can be brave and loyal.
Harry is supposedly on the side of good, but what is that good based on? It can’t be based on anyone’s morality because none of the characters present a strong moral character. Is the good based on using magic for good? That begs the question of what good is, not to mention that using magick for good is wrong in God’s eyes. So what is good according to Harry Potter? Is it just that good is less bad than an extreme evil, like Voldemort or Umbridge? Almost anyone would look good next to them. This is goodness born of relativism, just as a robber could be called good when compared to a mass murderer, and a pickpocket could be called good compared to an armed robber.
Before we can say it’s about good versus evil, we have to see what the good is and how it is defined. It is clear in this book, and in the others, that good is based on how things turn out — the ends justify the means. This is a philosophy in which any action can be rationalized for what is perceived as a good or useful end. It is not about what is good so much as it is about what is expedient. Harry cannot be a good hero simply by being the hero; and skillful fighting with spells is neither admirable nor good.
The popularity of the Harry Potter books does not give them a pass, and the criticism for pointing out the flaws in these books is not a reason to keep silent.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21
See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 1 Thessalonians 5:15