THEMES OF DARKNESS, DISOBEDIENCE, AND OCCULTISM IN BOOKS TWO, THREE, AND FOUR
The foundation showing that sorcery is an occult practice, that J. K. Rowling’s character Harry Potter is learning sorcery, and that there is a difference between sorcery and contemporary witchcraft and Wicca, was laid out in my article on the first Harry Potter book, written in the spring of 2000 and posted on this website. Various pieces of evidence were given and backed up with quotes from occult sources. For example, I think I was the first one to discover that Nicolas Flamel is an historical personage who was an alchemist; I discovered this on a hunch that Flamel’s name was not a name Rowling would make up. There are legends that grew up around Flamel, but he is an actual person from history. Some practices alluded to in the first book are described in occult books. In short, it was shown that Rowling did not just pull all of Harry Potter’s antics from her imagination as has been alleged by the press and by many of her fans. Divination, one of the courses at Hogwarts, is an integral part of the occult. [See Note A at the end of article].
It is unnecessary to go over the same material again, so if you have not read the first article, Harry Potter, Sorcery, and Fantasy, it might be helpful to do so in order to put the following article in its proper perspective. This more informal article will cover topics more succinctly, mainly pointing out references in the second, third, and fourth books that are related to the following: the occult; topics of darkness and death inappropriate for children; dark, disturbing imagery; immoral actions being endorsed by the stories; or immoral or malicious actions presented without any condemnation. I discovered that themes of darkness and death, as well as blatantly accepted immorality on the part of the main characters, increased dramatically in the second, third, and fourth books. All examples cannot be covered, so only the most objectionable and blatant will be included.
I have endeavored to support all my assertions about the books’ messages with clear examples from the books. I believe that the books indict themselves on all counts.
Sources are listed at the end.
Book Two: The Chamber of Secrets (Scholastics paperback, 1999)
Gruesome references and references to death:
Harry sees the Hand of Glory in a shop (52). The Hand of Glory is a reference to a real object used for occult purposes, and was a hand that was cut off from an executed criminal. In De Givry’s Witchcraft, Magic, and Alchemy, he quotes a book published in 1722 (Secrets merveilleux de la magie naturelle et cabalistique du Petit Albert): “Take the right or left hand of a felon who is hanging from a gibbet beside a highway”…..[gives directions for pickling & drying it out]…”Next make a kind of candle with the fat of a gibbeted felon, virgin was, sesame, and ponie, and use the Hand of Glory as a candlestick…”(de Givry, 181). According to another source, the hand of glory “was used as a charm in black-magic spells…ideally severed while the corpse still swung from the gallows” and then candles made from “the murderer’s fat” and the wick “made from his hair” were placed between the fingers of the hand. Burglars believe that carrying the lighted hand of glory would keep the occupants of a house asleep (Guiley, 149). The Hand of Glory is mentioned as “gruesome” by both de Givry and Spence (200) and as “grisly” by Gonzales-Wippler (317).
The headless ghosts play a game of “head hockey” (136).
The ghost, Bloody Baron, is described as “a gaunt, staring Slytherin ghost covered in silver bloodstains,” (132).
One of the most horrifying images is how sweet 11-yr-old Ginny Weasley, younger sister of Harry’s best friend, Ron, is dying as Tom Riddle, who is really Lord Voldemort, feeds off of her energy by growing stronger on “a diet of her deepest fears, her darkest secrets,” to the point that she was controlled enough by Voldemort to kill animals and loose the terrible Serpent of Slytherin on four children (310, 313, 323). This conjures up a frightening picture of a young child killing animals and attempting to kill people because she was somehow “taken over” by Voldemort. This imagery is way too dark for the age group this book targets.
There are morbid references to death as in Malfoy looking forward to one of the children being killed (223), the ghost Moaning Myrtle talking about how she was pondering death before she was killed (230), and then telling Harry and his friends how she died before coming back to “haunt” someone (299). Are we perhaps to see Myrtle’s death as less horrible because she was contemplating death when alive? Myrtle is not presented as a Casper-the-friendly-ghost type, but as a real child who was killed before becoming a ghost.
References to actual occult practices
Arithmancy (252), a type of numerology, is “divination by means of numbers” practiced by the Greeks, Platonists and Pythagoreans. It is also a part of the Kabbalah (Spence, 36). The Kabbalah (spelled variously with a k, c, or q, with one or two b’s, and with or without an h at the end) is based on Gnostic stories and interpretations of Judaic writings, and contains elements of mysticism and occultism, including numerology, astrology, and sorcery. [For further information, see entry for “Kabbalah” in CANA’s article on Occult Terms].
The “Ancient Runes” are mentioned (252). These are used for divination. Divination is a method of obtaining unknown information through interpretation of patterns, reading hidden meanings in ordinary objects or symbols, or through using contact with a discarnate entity. Forms of divination include astrology, palmistry, reading tea leaves, using a pendulum, numerology, and crystal or mirror gazing. Runes come from alphabets used by the ancient Scandinavian, Germanic, and Anglo-Saxon peoples. The term comes from runa, meaning “a whisper” or “a mystery” (Whitcomb, 229). Runes were considered “intrinsically magical” and used in sorcery (Ibid). In contemporary times, runes are carved on pieces of wood or stone and thrown down on a table or the floor for the purpose of divination.
The use of runes has increased recently due to a growth in Norse-based pagan religions such as Asatru and Odinism. In Nazi Germany, which was enjoying a romance with Germanic Neopaganism, Heinrich Himmler, who was involved in the study of runes, used a double Sig, a runic symbol for the letter S, as the emblem for the special SS forces (Gonzalez-Wippler, 317; Tresidder, 173). Runes are easily available today as cards or stonelike objects, accompanied by a book with instructions. Most stores that sell Tarot cards, such as the large bookstore chains, also stock Rune sets.
Rowling depicts the children at Hogwarts, scared of the strange goings-on, as arming themselves with talismans and amulets (185). Talismans are “objects that possess magical or supernatural power of their own and transmit them to the owner,” (Guiley, 327) while amulets are magical objects that “protect against bad luck, illness, and evil,” (Guiley, 8). Alchemists would perform incantations to summon spirits to imbue their talismans with power, and the most prized talisman was the Philosopher’s Stone (Ibid, 327), called the Sorcerer’s Stone in the first H. Potter book. Amulets and talismans are used today, even in popular culture. The belief that certain stones can bring healing, wealth, or happiness are an example of this.
In this book, the mandrakes are portrayed as sentient beings with a “cry that is fatal to anyone who hears it,” and are able to bring cursed people “back to their original state,”(92). Guiley states that the mandrake is “a poisonous perennial herb…reputed to have powerful magical properties…The ancient Arabs and Germans believed a mandragoras, a demon spirit resembling a little man with no beard, dwelled in the plant…” and “touching it can be fatal. If uprooted, it shrieks and sweats blood, and whoever pulls it out dies in agony.” (221). De Givry notes that the mandrake was seen as having a male or female form, and superstition had it that these forms were indwelt by demons (345-6).
Lack of Moral Structure
Aside from the occult symbolism and usage, there is the moral problem of Harry and his friends disobeying, deceiving, lying, and acting in mean-spirited ways. Almost every adventure Harry has comes from lying or disobeying. These are some of the pages describing Harry or his friends lying or practicing deception: 32, 134, 143, 162-3 (Hermione deceives Lockhart into signing a note for Harry), 187-88, 209 (Harry lies to Dumbledore), 288 (Harry lied to two people), and 292.
One of the first big adventures is when Harry agrees to ride with Ron Weasley in the flying car owned by their father which they have taken without his permission. The car has been given these powers by Mr. Weasley who, by doing this, is himself in violation of the law. Adults in these books often do not abide by laws either.
If Harry or his friends regretted deception, or were punished for it, it would set a moral tone that lying and deception are wrong. But Harry and his friends often get away with their pranks, receive light consequences, or are even rewarded for their disobedience. In fact, at the end of the book, Dumbledore tells Harry and Ron, “I seem to remember telling you both that I would have to expel you if you broke any more school rules,” (330). Then Dumbledore immediately says, “Which goes to show that the best of us must sometimes eat our words….You will both receive Special Awards for Services to the School and…two hundred points apiece for Gryffindor,” (331). This final result teaches that the ends justify the means; moral behavior is set aside if certain results are achieved.
Possible Correspondences to Alchemy (Sources: De Givry; Sadoul)
Alchemy was an occult practice. Although some of the discoveries in alchemy led to the modern science of chemistry, the purpose of the alchemists’ work was not scientific discovery, but to find the elixir of life through the discovery of the Philosopher’s Stone (called the Sorcerer’s Stone in the first Harry Potter book for the U.S. edition). Symbols rich in esoteric meaning, occult references to astrology and numerology, and other occult terms were the heart of alchemy. Alchemy served as a symbolic depiction of the esoteric, spiritual journey to self-divinization. According to De Givry, alchemy is understanding the mystery of creation (350). [See the CANA article on the first Harry Potter book for more information].
Much literature on the practice of alchemy is in French:
Voldemort (mort is French for death).
Gryffindor – (d’or is French for gold): Griffins are used in alchemical imagery and symbolism (mercury to gold = Gryffindor)
N. Flamel (from the first book) – an actual alchemist from 14th/15th century France whose name was found in several occult books
Seven metals were used for the alchemical process (corresponding to 7 planets); there will be seven books in H. Potter series.
The Phoenix, a symbol of the alchemical process, saves Harry in book 2, and will be in the title of book 5. The song of the phoenix also comforts Harry in the fourth book as he confronts Voldemort (664).
THEMES OF DARKNESS, DISOBEDIENCE, AND OCCULTISM IN BOOKS TWO, THREE AND FOUR
Book Three, The Prisoner of Azakaban (NY, NY: Scholastic Press, 1999)
Scary, dark imagery and references to death:
The third book is darker than the second one. References that are grisly, or refer to madness and death, are so numerous that only a few can be listed here. Perhaps the best example of this are the dementors, creatures that are never clearly described as to whether they are actual beings or are spirits or something else. Rowling gives us the dementors’ job description: “They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair; they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them….If it can, the dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself…soul-less and evil,” (187). Dementors feed on people’s happiness, and their victims usually “go mad within weeks,” (188, also 97). When Harry first sees a dementor, he sees this: “There was a hand protruding from the cloak and it was glistening, grayish, slimy-looking, and scabbed, like something dead that had decayed in water…” (83). The effect on Harry is frightening: “Harry’s eyes rolled up into his head. He couldn’t see. He was drowning in cold. …He was being dragged downward, the roaring growing louder…” (83).
Harry’s reaction to the dementors grows even more terrifying: he hears the screams of his mother as she is being murdered. This is portrayed vividly when Harry, playing Quidditch, hears his mother’s cries that he supposedly heard as a baby when his parents were murdered: “Not Harry, please no, take me, kill me instead -….Not Harry! Please. . . have mercy. . .have mercy. . .” Harry tells Lupin, “I can hear Voldemort murdering my mum,” (187). And later the book states, “His mother was screaming in his ears . . . She was going to be the last thing he ever heard,” (384).
Lupin, a popular professor and a champion of Harry’s, turns out to be a werewolf. Lupin tells Harry that when he was younger and hung out with Harry’s dad and two other friends, they turned themselves into animals to keep Lupin company; this was against the rules (354). Lupin, who was dangerous during the werewolf episode, was smuggled away where he could not harm anyone. As a professor, he takes a potion that allows him to sleep off the werewolf transformation each month. However, in the story, Lupin turns into a werewolf in front of Harry and Ron. Although Harry and Ron escaped unharmed, Lupin ends up leaving the school because he could have bitten someone, turning them into a werewolf (422, 423).
These scenes seem too intense and too dark for the children who read these books. It is emphasized that these are just a few of the many examples of such imagery. Pages with references to death of people (some pages with more than one reference) are: 38, 40, 54, 65, 66, 73, 78, 107, 141, 159, 173, 179, 184, 187, 203, 206, 208, 213, 214, 215, 228, 239, 243, 361, 363, 354-65, 373, 384, 399. Pages 141 and 214 have three references to death each; pages 206 and 215 each have four references to death; and page 208 has six.
References to the occult and magick
Thought forms and Familiar Spirits:
Harry is taught by Prof. Lupin (a name meaning “wolflike”) to conjure a Patronus, a guardian spirit, against the attack of the Dementors. This is a very vivid, rather drawn-out episode in the book (237-242) during which Harry confronts the dreaded Dementors and hears his mother’s voice from the past as she was being murdered (239). Lupin tells Harry that this conjuring of the Patronus is “highly advanced magick” and that the Patronus is a sort of “a guardian” to protect Harry. When Harry does this later in the book, it turns out that Harry’s Patronus is a silver stag (411).
What Lupin seems to be teaching Harry is how to conjure what in the occult is called a “thought-form,” sometimes considered a familiar spirit, especially if it takes the form of an animal. A thought-form is a “quasi-independent constellation of psychic elements,” conjured up to “act in accordance” with the will of one who conjures it, and which is “reabsorbed” into the person’s consciousness when it has done its job (Farrar, 93, 240-41, 320-21). The thought-form is considered to be an astral entity, a spirit conjured on the astral plane by someone on the earth plane (Gonzalez-Wippler, 105). The astral plane, according to some occult and New Age teachings, is a dimension beyond the material plane which can be contacted in dreams, through rituals, or visited by the astral self. The astral plane is also considered to be “the working ground of the magician,” (Gonzalez-Wippler, 98). [For further information, see Marcia’s Occult Terms on her site under “Astral Projection”].
Guiley states that a familiar may be a thought-form “created magically and empowered to carry out a certain task on the astral plane,” (Guiley, 120, 317). She adds that a shaman (practitioner of the occult, usually in an indigenous culture) acquires his familiar spirits when he is initiated, and these spirits manifest in “animal, reptile or bird” forms (Guiley, 120). As Lupin tells Harry, each “Patronus” is “unique to the wizard who conjures it,” (237). The shaman may send out his familiars to battle for him (Guiley, 120), just as Harry sends out the Patronus to fight the Dementors.
Miscellaneous occult references:
There are references to divination tools such as runes, Arithmancy (similar to numerology), palmistry, and reading tea leaves. There are instances of people practicing “enchantments,” and making charms that make one feel good (164, 294). Throughout the book, there is admiration of the practice of magick; it is impossible to reference all the instances since the admiration of sorcery and the occult is at the very heart of the books, and only grows stronger with each book.
Disobedience, Maliciousness, and Deception
Harry disobeys fairly often with no remorse. Harry is only concerned with the consequences that might affect him, such as when he “blows up” Aunt Marge, a malicious act on his part. “She deserved it,” says our little Harry. “She deserved what she got,” (30). The only reason Harry worries about this is that he fears breaking a wizard law might put him in Azkaban(40). But Harry needn’t worry! “I broke the law,” cries Harry to Cornelius Fudge, head of the Ministry of Magic. “Oh, my dear boy, we’re not going to punish you for a little thing like that!” is Fudge’s reply (43). Fudge continues, “It was an accident! We don’t send people to Azkaban just for blowing up their aunts!” Apparently, breaking a wizard law is okay if one is blowing up one’s aunt, or if one is Harry Potter. Somewhat jealously, Harry’s friend Ron says, “I’d hate to see what the Ministry’d do to me if I blew up an aunt,” (36). The whole thing is glossed over because Aunt Marge has no memory of the incident, so “no harm done,” (44).
Harry is good at rationalizing his disobedience, as when he uses the forbidden Marauder’s Map. “It wasn’t as though he wanted to steal anything or attack anyone,” writes Rowling about how Harry is thinking. He only wants to go to the magical village of Hogsmeade, a place he does not have permission to visit (194). Harry has no qualms at all about doing this, although it involves many acts of deception and disobedience on his part.
Harry breaks Ministry of Magic laws by going back in time. Going back in time is described by Hermione as “breaking one of the most important wizarding laws,” (398) and can result in death for those who practice it (399). The real punch in this story is not that Harry disobeys, since he does this so often it is no longer surprising, but that he does so with the aid of Dumbledore (393). Just as Fudge let Harry off for blowing up Aunt Marge with nary a reprimand, so does Dumbledore ignore the laws of his own society by helping a student to break them.
Harry lies quite easily. He lies on the run from his attack on Aunt Marge (34), to Prof. Lupin (155), he suggests that Hermione lie (129), to Prof. Lupin again (“…Harry lied quickly,” 246), to his friend Neville (276-7), and to Prof. Snape several times in a row (283-86). In fact, the text tells us about Harry that “Snape was trying to provoke him into telling the truth. He wasn’t going to do it,” (284). Harry takes a stand for deception! And what is the purpose of these lies? Most of them are told so that Harry can slip away, using the invisibility cloak, to Hogsmeade.
When Harry is caught going to Hogsmeade, Lupin rebukes Harry not for disobedience and deception, but because in going to Hogsmeade, Harry risked his life (290). Although this is certainly a serious reason not to have gone, nothing is said about Harry’s methods of getting there. This is what might be called pragmatic ethics — something is only wrong if it doesn’t work or if it causes harm. This is a dangerous ethic, as humans are prone to rationalize anything they would like to do, no matter how evil it may be. There is no standard presented in this book, or the others, for the simple ethics of honesty and telling the truth for their own sake.
Harry is not quite the picture of a moral hero. In fact, Prof. Snape says it best when he states: “But famous Harry Potter is a law unto himself…Famous Harry Potter goes where he wants to with no thought for the consequences.” (284). If Harry had remorse, apologized, or learned a lesson from his actions, it could serve as an illustration for children that one must act ethically and morally, even when it is difficult to do so. But these books do not teach that. Added to this are the references to and endorsements of some dark practices, such as the summoning of the Patronus.
THEMES OF DARKNESS, DISOBEDIENCE, AND OCCULTISM IN BOOKS TWO, THREE AND FOUR
Book Four: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Scholastic Press/Scholastic Inc., 2000)
The 734-page fourth book in the series takes the reader more deeply into dark imagery and practices that are at times repulsive. In order to track immoral behavior, bizarre and grotesque images and actions, and occult references, I had to make, for all the books, various lists titled “Scary, Grotesque,” “Occult,” “Lying, Deception,” “The Dark Side,” “Cruelty,” “Bad Behavior,” and “Death.” Often these categories overlapped, making it difficult to know where to list something. The titles of these lists, all with several page numbers itemized beneath them, should indicate a major problem with these books as children’s books, or even as books for young teens.
Please keep in mind that I am only providing a few examples of the total picture presented in the book.
The Grotesque, the Cruel, and Death
The book starts with a very scary scene ? the scene of a murder, and continues in this vein, describing the gruesome murder of Frank Bryce as psychically seen by Harry in a dream. So a psychic vision or dream is combined along with a murder scene.
At the World Cup game, several wizards “play” with Muggles (non-wizards) by throwing them in the air, the Muggles “being contorted into grotesque shapes,” (119). One such action is described in an almost obscene way: “…her nightdress fell down to reveal voluminous drawers and she struggled to cover herself up as the crowd below her screeched and hooted with glee,” (120).
Sirius describes at length how people die at Azkaban, usually of madness because they lose the will to live. “You could always tell when death was coming, because the dementors could sense it, they got excited,” (329). The ghost, Moaning Myrtle, morbidly describes how someone found her body: “And then she saw my body. . . ooooh, she didn’t forget it until her dying day, I made sure of that. . . followed her around and reminded her, I did,” (465).
The villain Voldemort, who has not had a body, has been possessing various bodies (he possessed the body of Prof. Quirell in book one) until he can perform the ritual to give himself a body, which is done at the end of the book (this is discussed under the section on occult practices below). One person whose body Voldemort used apparently died when Voldemort left this person’s body (654). Bertha Jorkins, killed by Voldemort, had a body weakened by Voldemort’s techniques in getting information out of her, a body too weakened for Voldemort to possess, which is why he killed her (655).
The dementors, “”sightless, soul-sucking fiends,” (23) pop up often in the story. Their effect is gruesome: “. . . that was the terrible power of the dementors: to force their victims to relive the worst memories of their lives, and drown, powerless, in their own despair,” (217). Harry sees a dementor “gliding” toward him, “its face hidden by its hood, its rotting, scabbed hands outstretched [. . .] sensing its way blindly toward him. Harry could hear its rattling breath…” (622-23). Not exactly the stuff for pleasant dreams!
There are many references to death: the killing “curse” (215); Harry pictures the death of his parents “over and over again” (216); the book starts with murder and has the murder of classmate Cedric DIggory towards the end (638); Sirius talks about the murder of Muggles (527); Barty Crouch tells how he killed his father (690); and the death of previous champions competing in the Triwizard Tournament is discussed (187, 203-4, 305). In fact, Dumbledore tells Hermione, Harry, and Ron that in previous years, the death toll of Triwizard competitors rose so high, that the competition was eliminated (187).
The most grotesque event is Voldemort’s ritual for acquiring a body, which will be discussed later.
Disobedience and Deception
It is not surprising that a book for and about children or young people would contain acts of disobedience and deception. What is disturbing is that these acts often go unpunished or are even rewarded, when performed by Harry. What is equally disturbing is that often the adults in a position of authority go along with this, or even participate themselves.
The Weasley’s, the family of Harry’s friend, Ron, send a note to Harry inviting him to attend the World Cup, and let him know they will come and get him even if the Dursley’s, Harry’s guardians and relatives, say no (36).
Although using magic on Muggles is prohibited (79), it is done by adults with relish at the World Cup (77, 81, 93, 95). The Ministry of Magic, in charge of enforcing this rule, simply gives up: [ ]. . . “the Ministry seemed to have bowed to the inevitable and stopped fighting the signs of blatant magic now breaking out everywhere,” (93).
Fred and George Weasley disobey their father and gamble, betting on the outcome of the game. However, does Mr. Weasley punish them? No, instead he instructs them to hide the gambling from their mother, (117). In addition, Mr. Weasley does not want to know what their “plans” are for their winnings, since he suspects this will entail further disobedience (117).
The Hogwarts students are taught certain curses that are supposedly not allowed to be taught (213-15). Harry and Ron wonder whether their professor and Dumbledore, the headmaster, would get in trouble with the Ministry for this. Ron says that they probably would, but “Dumbledore’s always done things his way, hasn’t he. . .” (220). This statement is reminiscent of Snape’s statement about Harry in the third book, that Harry is a “law unto himself,” (284).
Harry is helped illegally on his tasks for the Triwizard Tournament by Hagrid (328), Cedric (431), Moaning Myrtle (497), Ron and Hermione (486-7), and Dobby (491). Both Prof. Mooday and Ludo Bagman offer to help Harry cheat, although it is discovered later that this Moody is not the real Moody, but was actually Barty Crouch, Jr., doing a Moody double.
Harry uses the invisibility cloak to sneak out at night at Hagrid’s suggestions, and so discovers what the first task will involve (323, 328). Harry lies about the second Task loudly so that a judge hears him (504); Harry lies to Prof. Snape (516 ? “‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ Harry lied coldly”), to Prof. Trelawney, when she asks if Harry had a premonition after Harry has had a psychic vision in her class (577), and to Fudge (581). Harry doesn’t restrict his lying to authority figures; he includes his friends. One could call Harry an equal opportunity liar. He lies to Sirius (228), Hermione (443), and Hagrid (456). Lying to Hermione gives Harry’s insides “a guilty squirm, but he ignored them,” (443).
Harry uses magic off the grounds of Hogwarts, breaking the rules (729-30). Breaking the rules comes naturally to Harry as we see when Harry takes the Marauder’s Map, “which, next to the cloak, was the most useful aid to rule-breaking Harry owned,” (458).Naturally, Harry gets away with these acts of disobedience (478.)
Immoral and Objectionable Behavior
There are references to gambling by Fred and George, and their father does not punish them for this though he objects to it (88), and he even tells them to hide it from their mother (117).
The phrase, “to give a damn,” is used on pages 62 and 470. It is totally unnecessary. Ron makes an obscene play on words in talking to Lavender: “Can I have a look at Uranus, too, Lavender?” (201)
The Ministry of Magic did not investigate the disappearance of someone believed to be a victim of Voldemort because the person was a Muggle (601).
Harry and the Weasley children laugh at a cruel trick perpetrated on Dudley (51, 53). Harry, Hermione, and Ron laugh when Malfoy is turned into a ferret and bounced up and down (206-7); it’s made clear in the text that Malfoy is in pain (206). After cursing Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle into unconsciousness, Ron, Harry, and George “kicked, rolled, and pushed” them into a corridor, where they left them (730). Well, some would say, so what? Dudley, Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle are mean to Harry; they’re the bad guys. The response: Is it okay to teach our children to seek revenge, and to be cruel to others because they are cruel to us? What about Jesus’ command to forgive others and to love those who persecute us? Should Christians make exceptions for Harry, especially when our children are reading these books? What are they learning from this?
Lying and deception, also considered immoral behavior, have their own section above this one. The point here is that Harry rarely feels remorse for lying and deception, and if he does, he ignores it; he often seems to enjoy being deceptive; he rarely suffers the consequences; and the authority figures themselves sometimes reward him despite this behavior.
References to the Occult
The first article mentions that casting spells and divination are taught at Hogwarts. Naturally, Harry and the other students continue these studies through Book 4, getting more skilled in their use of magick. Hermione is “immersed” in her Book of Spells (152); Hermione explains that Hogwarts is hidden to Muggles because it is “bewitched” so that it appears to be something else (166); a “Summoning Charm” is part of a lesson (167); part of the Triwizard Tournament is to test the “magical prowess” of the competitors (255); Ron seems to have practiced a form of magick when Harry finds a small figure resembling a Quidditch player with its arm broken off (444); and Harry has psychic dreams and visions (17, 576). These events are merely a drop in the bucket compared to other instances in the book.
One of the curses taught to the students at Hogwarts is called the Avada Kedavra. This is taught as one of the three “Unforgivable Curses,” (214-17).This may be more familiar to some as Abracadabra, thought to be a hoaky chant made up by magicians pulling rabbits out of hats. However, there is an actual occult connection to this term.
According to Gonzalez-Wippler, abracadabra is thought to be derived from Abraxas, the name of a demon (293). Whitcomb considers Abraxas to the name of a gnostic deity of time, with “the arms and torso of a man, the head of a cock, and serpents for legs,” (401). Gonzalez-Wippler describes him this way as well, though she says he has the head of a hawk (293). The earliest record of the magical use of Abracadabra is found in a Roman poem on medicine written in AD 208 (293). The word must be written from top to bottom in pyramid form, dropping a letter in each line until the last line at the bottom contains only the first letter, “A,” (294).
This formula was put on parchment, tied up, and worn as an amulet around the patient’s neck, “worn for nine days, then thrown over the shoulder into a stream that runs eastward,” the idea being that the illness would shrink just as the word was shown to shrink in writing (294-95).
Those who would laugh this off should recall that the Avada Kedavra curse is called the “killing curse” in The Goblet of Fire and is used effectively by Voldemort to murder Cedric Diggory (638) and used by Voldemort in an attempt to kill Harry later (663). Thus, the book endorses the idea that there is power in this phrase. I have also seen instructions on using Abracadabra as a spell in a witchcraft book I happened to be glancing through at Barnes & Noble.
Harry, in this story, as he learned to do in the third book, summons his Patronus, his guardian spirit (623). Harry uses spells and sorcery in his fight with Voldemort.
The darkest and most grisly part of all four books appears here in chapters 32, 33, and 34. Chapter 32, “Flesh, Blood, and Bone,” includes the death of classmate Cedric Diggory, and Harry’s capture by Voldemort’s servant, Wormtail. Harry, tied up to the gravestone of Voldemort’s father, watches a ritual performed by Wormtail to create a body for the etheric Voldemort who appears in repulsive form as “hairless and scaly-looking, a dark, raw, reddish black” with a face that is “flat and snakelike, with gleaming red eyes,” (640).
Voldemort is placed in a cauldron while Wormtail raises his wand and performs the ritual. Ground-up bone from Voldemort’s dead father is put in the cauldron; then Wormtail cuts off part of his arm for the cauldron to provide the flesh; and, in the final step, blood from Harry’s arm is drawn by Wormtail and put in a glass vial, then poured into the cauldron (641-42). Thus, “bone, flesh, and blood,” the ingredients for this grisly ritual, are gathered by Wormtail and put in the cauldron with the not-quite-human Voldemort. The result is that Voldemort acquires a body: “Lord Voldemort had risen again,” (643).
Voldemort tells Harry that this ritual is a “old piece of Dark Magic,” (656) and reveals that he has been searching for immortality: “I, who have gone further than anybody along the path that leads to immortality. You know my goal ? to conquer death,” (653). Interestingly, this was also the goal of alchemist Nicolas Flamel (a real French alchemist) in the first Harry Potter book. Flamel was mentioned as Dumbledore’s partner. Therefore, Dumbledore and Flamel must have had the same goal as all alchemists, immortality ? the elixir of life found in the sorcerer’s stone ? which Flamel did find (according to The Sorcerer’s Stone and according to legend that sprung up around the actual Flamel). So now we see that Voldemort’s goal is the same as alchemist Flamel and, by implication, his partner, Dumbledore. [For more on alchemy, see the first CANA article on Harry Potter].
In the occult, power is neutral; it is only how one uses it as to whether one is on the dark or the light side. Therefore, Voldemort is on the dark side because of his methods and intentions. To desire and seek immortality through sorcery is alright if one’s methods follow the “good” or “light” side of the occult. That is why, I believe, the Potter books use the term “dark side” more than they use the term “evil,” which is used very infrequently. Indeed, Dumbledore “invoked an ancient magic” to protect Harry (657). Voldemort and Dumbledore both use sorcery (magick), but Dumbledore is considered good because of his intentions. This is the belief that endorses the practice of “white” magick. If one accepts this premise and believes that Harry is the hero and Dumbledore is the “good guy,” then one has accepted a tenet of the occult. [See CANA document, “The Dark Side”].
The ritual performed by Wormtail, using bone from a corpse, flesh, and blood is somewhat similar to rituals associated with Palo Mayombe, the black magick of Santeria, a religion that resulted in a combination of the African Yoruba religion with certain elements of Catholicism. The chief instrument for the practitioner (the mayembero) is a cauldron containing the “head, fingers, toes, and tibia of a human corpse,” as well as other grisly ingredients such as insects; this cauldron is called a nganga or prendo (Gonzalez-Wippler, 324; Drake, 79, 136; Guiley, 302). A corpse is used because the mayembero makes a pact, through a ritual, with the spirit of the corpse to do his bidding (Drake, 79, 136; Guiley, 302). The mayembero must know the identity of the corpse, and it is preferable that the corpse is the body of someone who has lived a bad or criminal life (Drake, 136; Guiley, 302). The mayembero also spills some of his blood into the cauldron after he has sealed a pact wit the spirit of the corpse (Guiley, 302). In a further ritual, the mayembero becomes possessed by the spirit of the corpse (Guiley, 302). The nganga is used for good or for bad; the mayombero “can cure and he can kill with it,” (Gonzalez-Wippler, 324; Guiley, 302). The followers of Santeria fear the ngangas so much that they will only speak of them in whispers (Guiley, 302, citing Gonzalez-Wippler, Santeria: African Magic in Latin America; New York: Original Products, 1981).
Keeping this information in mind, let us look at Voldemort’s ritual. He uses bone from a known corpse, the corpse of his father. The serpent who serves him is named Nagini, which is slightly reminiscent of nganga. Whether this name is intentional or not on the part of Rowling is not the point; I am simply making observations. Voldemort refers to this ritual as an “old piece of Dark Magic;” Palo Mayombe is also considered dark magick. Rather than summon a spirit or being possessed by the spirit of the corpse, Voldemort’s ritual is done for his own rebirth. He uses bone, flesh, and blood, similar to ingredients used by the mayembero for the nganga. Voldemort states that while awaiting his “rebirth,” he gave instructions to Wormtail for “a spell or two of my own invention. . . a little help from my dear Nagini..[…]..a potion concocted from unicorn blood, and the snake venom Nagini provided,” (656). As Santeros mention the nganga only in whispers, so too do those in the Harry Potter stories fear mentioning Voldemort’s name. The parallel of the mayembero and his nganga with Voldemort and the ritual for his rebirth may not be intentional but also should be noted.
When Harry and Voldemort duel with their wands, so to speak, the spirits of those slain by Voldemort come out of his wand (666-668). These are presented as actual spirits, not hallucinations or dreamlike visions, since each one speaks encouragingly to Harry. Harry’s mother even gives him instructions on how to return to Hogwarts (667). Once again, the Harry Potter books endorse the idea that spirit contact is possible and that it can be a good thing.
Conclusions on first four books
The “bad’ characters are painted so badly, even cartoonish in the case of the Dursleys, that Dumbledore, Harry, and his pals look good. But it’s all relative. And that is the problem: relativism. Harry’s use of the occult, Dumbledore and Harry’s deceptions, Harry’s many lies and disobedience are camouflaged by the extreme evil of Voldemort and Draco Malfoy. Who notices a poisonous snake in a room full of snarling tigers? When Harry and Dumbledore are examined closely, without the snarling tigers around, one can see that the behavior of these characters is far from moral.
There is the matter of Harry’s connection to Lord Voldemort. Harry’s scar, which he received when Voldemort murdered his parents, hurts when Voldemort is near or is planning something that will ultimately endanger Harry (Goblet of Fire, Chapter Two, 638, 652, 706). Harry’s wand and Voldemort’s wand each contain a feather from the same phoenix (Goblet of Fire, 697). Both Harry and Voldemort speak “parselmouth,” the language of serpents. Harry has dreams and psychic visions of what Voldemort is doing. Although the idea is in all four books, the fourth book in particular presents a view that there is a psychic connection between Voldemort and Harry. What is the purpose of this connection?
As with the connection between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in the Star Wars movies, the connection shows the light and dark side of magick (the Force in Star Wars). This is not about good and evil so much as it is about using power. The source for both the dark powers of Voldemort and for the sorcery of Harry and Dumbledore is the same. The indication in the books is that those who become dark wizards do so from their own will; that is, it is entirely under one’s control as to whether one is a dark or white magician. The message is that as long as one chooses to use these powers for good, then one is good. [See Note B at end of article].
This raises the question: what is ‘good’ exactly according to these books? If Harry is good, then it must be good to use sorcery for good, since that is what the books advocate. If Harry lies and puts himself above the rules, which he does consistently, then that must be good as well, since Harry is the hero and is presumed to be good. Many defend these books on the ground that this is a story of good versus evil; therefore, one must conclude that in order to do good, one can lie, deceive, act maliciously, and use sorcery if the intention is good, or if the results are acceptable. Is this an ethic that one can endorse? It depends on what standard one is using for the ethic. If one uses the occult as the standard, then the answer is yes. In the occult, power is the ultimate source; there are no standards of absolute good and evil. Therefore, one’s intentions, the results of one’s actions, and one’s subjective rationalizations for the actions are the measuring rod. But if one uses good from God as taught in His word as the standard, then practices such as spirit contact, divination, casting spells, deception, and maliciousness would not be practiced by ‘good’ characters without remorse and consequences.
This brings us to the crux of the problem with Harry Potter. It is not that the books present occult practices or immoral actions. It goes even beyond the fact that the books endorse these actions for Harry. The issue is what is the nature of good, and how is it defined in these books? If Harry is good, or is doing good, and if these books are about good versus evil, then what is this ‘good’ based on? Where do the books present the standard for this? Where is the moral absolute? Does it reside in Dumbledore, who not only helps Harry in some of his plots, but also rewards him even when he has misbehaved? Does it reside in Harry, who has been shown in this article to lack a moral character? Does the good depend solely on intentions or outcomes, as the books’ storylines suggest? Or does the good depend on sorcery itself, the neutral power that enables one to practice light or dark magick? One cannot claim the books teach a moral lesson of good versus evil if the books themselves do not present a clear picture of what this ‘good’ is, or if they present a distorted picture of it.
Ultimately, it is not that the Potter books provide an immoral universe, but rather that they present one that is morally neutral.
Occult sources describing divination, which is taught at Hogwarts in many forms – the Runes, arithmancy, astrology, scrying, and psychic techniques:
Migene Gonzalez-Wippler, a recognized authority on the occult and on some Afro-Caribbean religions such as Santeria, has in her Spells, Ceremonies, and Magic entries for divination on 190-254, which include astrology, chiromancy, I Ching, and tarot. On 191, she states, “Divination can best be defined as prediction of the future or the discovery of secrets by means of a variety of occult methods.”
Encyclopedia of Occultism, on page 125, not only lists divination but also gives it over 4 columns (which covers over 2 pages) of very small print.
The Magician’s Companion lists these pages for divination in the index: 43, 132, 138, 147, 183-4, 189, 217-19, 230, 277-9, 301-2, 466, 497, 505, 507, 515, 523, 530, 534, 536, 544, 549. Some of these pages include info on the Tarot, the I Ching, and Runes, the last of which is also mentioned in the Potter books.
Janet and Stewart Farrar, in their Witches’ Bible, list methods of divination in a chapter on “Clairvoyance and Divination.”
Rosemary Guiley has an entry for Divination, and states that it “traditionally is an important skill of the folk witch. In some societies, divination has been performed only by special classes of trained priests or priestesses. Divination remains an important skill for many contemporary Witches and Pagans,” (104).
Excerpts from article, “The Dark Side,” on CANA website:
In one book, a young boy at a wizardry school (not Harry Potter) is listening to the professor explain that practicing the black arts is not really evil at all, but is just the exaggeration and twisting of normal human traits: “By ‘black,’ I do not mean evil. Or wicked. I mean dark and deep, as in the black water of the deepest lakes,” (Yolen, 83). This view of evil is not uncommon in occult philosophies. Evil is usually expressed in one or more of the following ways, which may overlap: the dark side is just another aspect of the good; both good and evil are needed for the balancing of energy and life (polarity); a magician must master and control all aspects of himself in order to master the spirits and forces of sorcery; evil is a force; good & evil are part of the whole, and therefore, are ultimately the same thing; and, finally, good and evil are transcended and combined in the One.
. . .[. . .] . . . One does not necessarily choose evil but goes to the dark side almost inadvertently through emotions that one has failed to control. The very Zen-like Yoda in “Star Wars” says that the dark side of the Force is accessed through fear and anger (natural emotions, not evil). This is similar to what the teacher says to the boy at the wizardry school. The young wizard is told that “[w]e are all made up of such deep and dark emotions, and as we grow more mature, we learn to control them,” (83). The message is, control your emotions, master yourself, and you will keep the dark side at bay. This message is also found in the first four Harry Potter books. Harry is not taught so much to do moral good, as he is to control his powers. Even in using his powers for a heroic act, Harry practices deception and disobedience on an almost constant basis. Morality is irrelevant as a value in itself; what matters is that the ends justify the means. This kind of compromise is accepted, even lauded, in a world where there is no absolute good or evil. Of course, for a wizard (sorcerer), self-mastery is of paramount importance since self-mastery precedes mastery of the forces and spirits he believes he will be manipulating in his occult art.
In this view, man is morally neutral, like the Force. As Rabbi Cooper states, “[W]e are neither good nor evil in our nature. We are simply the product of the accumulated influences in our lives, plus the most important variable: our free will,” (157).
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