Harry Potter and the supernatural


The release of each new Harry Potter book or film bring out of the woodwork those religious people who are disturbed by them and decide they need to spam everyone and try to make money from it as well.

I received a spam email following the release of Deathly Hallows that recycled old warnings about the subversive nature of the books and asking me to buy a video to help combat the Potter menace. It said:

Through Harry’s world of sorcery [children] are learning the occultic tools — occult visualization and soulish mind power, wands, brooms, spells and curses.

In this video, you will see how completely occult is the world of Harry Potter. After reading the Harry Potter books, millions of children will demand to see Warner Bros. new movie, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”

Christian parents have faced a similar problem for years with the teaching of evolution in their public schools. They have responded by teaching their children that they cannot believe everything they are taught in school. Now, with the Harry Potter books on sorcery becoming part of public school curriculum, parents need to know enough about it to also teach their children that the spell-casting and other activities of Harry Potter are also forbidden territory. This video will help.

I have touched on this topic before and I said I that those religious people who objected to the Harry Potter books on the grounds that they seemed to promote witchcraft had it all wrong. The reasons for their objections should have been that the wizarding community seemed to be all atheists. The magic in the books does not involve any kind of spiritualism. Instead it seems to follow a prescribed set of rules and students learned about spells the way craftsmen learn the skills of a trade, by learning recipes and prescriptions and carefully choreographed series of actions. It is more like technology than dealing with the spiritual world.

What is notable about the books is the lack of any formal religion or religious practices, Satanic or otherwise. There are no ritualized practices of any kind. Since Christmas falls during the school year, its presence is acknowledged but it is clearly purely a Muggle phenomenon that happens in the background. As far as the wizarding community is concerned, Christmas only involves exchanging presents. I cannot recall any person in the books praying for anything or to anyone or invoking god, even when they were in the most dire straits and facing immense dangers and even death. Although some wizards were ‘godparents’ of others, these seemed to be just formal titles without any religious significance.

But there were many mentions of the afterlife and communications with people who were dead. As I have said before, the idea of an afterlife where our loved ones exist and whom we can hope to make contact with again is a much more appealing prospect than a god and one can see why it has such a strong hold on people’s imaginations. It also makes for good drama. J. K. Rowling’s mother, of whom the author speaks fondly, died while she was writing her first book in the series and Rowling mentions her regret that she did not know about the books. The strong themes of people being able to communicate with the dead under limited circumstances may have been a reflection of her own sense of loss for her mother’s companionship.

The absence of god and the devil and other supernatural entities may reflect Rowling’s own religious perspective but may also be due to the concrete needs of fantasy writers. I am not in general a fan of the fantasy genre but as commenter Shruti pointed out in response to a previous post, it seems that such writers have good reasons for keeping gods out of the picture. It is hard to mix fantasy used in novels with the even greater fantasy that is god.

In regular fiction, one can have characters who experience all kinds of problems because even deeply religious people are used to the fact that god does not intervene in everyday life, even though they continue to believe he can. So they don’t ask why god did not step in (say) to stop some evil or save a major character from dying.

But when you are dealing with the world of magic, you have chipped away at the wall that separates the real world from the magical and then it is hard to explain why god is not playing an active role in the events. If wizards can use spells, then why isn’t god the biggest, baddest wizard out there? Where is god while the forces of good and evil are battling each other on the fields of Hogwarts? It is much easier for the novelist to keep god out of the picture altogether. In the Lord of the Rings trilogy, there did not seem to be a god either, though I only saw the films and have not read the books. Perhaps those who are more familiar with the fantasy genre can help me out here and say if there are any fantasy writers who have a role for god in their books.

Whatever the reason, the absence of any forms of religion or religious observances in the Harry Potter books is quite striking. It would be an interesting study to see what influence these books have had on children’s views of god, religion, and spirituality in general.

POST SCRIPT: Left brained or right brained?

I am not much of a fan of things that seem to provide quickie answers to complex questions but this one is fun. It shows a silhouette of a twirling dancer and whether you see her as turning clockwise or counterclockwise (looking from the top presumably) supposedly determines which of your brain hemispheres is dominant.

Curiously, when I first looked at it, she seemed to be going clockwise for a very brief moment but then suddenly switched to counter-clockwise. I could never recapture that original perception.

Comments

  1. says

    The twirling dancer is a fun one; that was pointed out to me a few days ago. I found a couple of tricks to be able to switch perceived direction at will. The first one involves focusing solely on her legs and trying to visualize just the legs going whichever way you want them to. The other one, which was a little more consistent, involves blinking your eyes at a varying rate until you can get the blinking to alias in relation to the twirling, allowing you to switch direction.

  2. says

    There is actually a God, known as Iluvatar, in Tolkien’s Middle Earth. There’s also a pantheon beneath him of what one might consider demigods or archangels, but these characters play no role in The Lord of the Rings. (Unless you want to consider Sauron’s role as something of a fallen angel, but that’s not even brought up in the books, as I recall.)

    Higher beings play more of a role in the events of The Silmarillion, though. Iluvatar’s direct influence on the world exists pretty much only in its creation. Then some of the Valar (the highest order in the pantheon) enter the world and, for a time, play a direct role in its creation and in that of the beings who live there. Once the Children of Iluvatar (elves, men, etc.) exist, though, the Valar kind of take a backseat, non-interventionist role with a couple of exceptions. Certainly after the fall of Morgoth (a fallen Vala and Sauron’s mentor), the Valar will no longer take any interventionist action in Middle Earth itself–thus, no gods saving the day in The Lord of the Rings.

  3. says

    Gandalf and Saruman (as well as the other wizards/Istari) are also lesser angel-like beings, falling into the category of Maiar. Sauron and the Balrogs are Maiar as well.

  4. Zar says

    I suspect that Mano is just reaidng into Harry Potter hsi own Atheistic Biases simply because “Religious people” don’t like it.

    The same reaosn he misspells god when used as a proper noun, and for the same petty reason. His need to deminish rleligion ( Which he thinks is simply beelif in an interventionist god) lead shim to mock the concept by depersnalising it, even tot he poitn fo using bad grammer, and now to the poitn of beign compleltey blind to the subject of his doscoruse.

    there are two main points in hsi post.

    1: Harry Potters world use sMagic as if technology and it is not PSiritual, and htus it si Ahteisic.

    2: There ar eno supernatural beigns in Harry Potter.

    I’ll cover poitn 2 firts. No supernatural creatures? Mano has obviosuly not payed attention, Sicne Hogwarts is littered with GHosts, for example, and numerus other rather supernatural creatures hat I’m sre woudl in another setting be considered supernatural. (THe Wizards htemselves for example.)

    Nor was a Higher Power relaly denied, merleynot referenced.

    As tp the MAgic, Mano acts as if soemhow it is different in HArry Potter than its other depictions. Its not. Magic has always been depicted as mor elike a TEchnology, a crat one learns. In this repsect Harry Potter is unlike most previosu depictiosnfo Magic in that Harry and the others are capable fo workign Magic because of an innate ability they have to tap unseen powers that “Mufggles” lack. You can’t take a regular guya nd teahc hbim magic in Harry Potter, only those born into it can learn it. THis makes it moreliek the FOrce in Star Wars than like tehcnology.

    And Star Wars was made by an obviosu theost, George Lucas, who made it to get peopel to seek God.

    Havign said this, Rowling herself is also, by her admission at least, a Christain. The books do not reflect he rown beelifs and she has stated before that her thoughtsont he book is that its just rpetend and she doesnt beive int he Magic.

    And no, CHristaisn don’t beleiv ein magic just becauseof Miracles, butthis brigns up the MAgic-as-technology claim.

    In classical depictiosn, Magic was always soemthgin that operated with soem fixed laws, and wa sa craft oen coudl elarn. Anyoen coudl learn it, and ht elaws that Governmd magic whee always understood to be fixed.

    Havign read many Ancient Grimouares, I have noted the use of repeated Ritual, invokations, and principles that must be followed to ge thte desired effect. One cnanot ismply will for a magic invokation to get what one wants an dhas to be midnful of the principles of the Universe that govenr it.

    THis line of htinkign Culminated in the OTO and Aleister Crowleys systemised magical systems.

    Magic wa sunderstood then as harnessing the powrs othat bidn the Universe, for one sown use. In this case it is like Sicnece, and ealry Alchemy was acutlaly the forerunner of Chrmistry, just as Astorlogy was the forerunner of astronomy.

    The Principle objection to Magic in Judaism, and CHristainity, and even in ISlam, is the Philosophy beghidn it. Magic as a rule is base do teh concept tat we can use certain principels to get our own way, and is based entrley upon effectign the world to optain what on wants.

    Thus, it breeds a natural selfishness, and lacks any real regard as to how Magic is used other than optianign what one wants.

    Wicca tries to apply a rule, but if you knwo any Wiccans you knwo the Rede is inadequate. “And ye harm none, DO as Thou wilt” soudn snice but the rest f Wiccas Philosophy of aquisition drowns htis out and the moral relativity makes “HArm none” itsself rather ambiguous as it lets you deside who deserves what with no external examinaitin of moral consequences andonly internal desires to governw hat is and is not so.

    Nevertheless, Harry Potter differs from thsi approach in makign Magic an inborn attribute, rathe rthan a tehcnology.

  5. Thought Shaman says

    Zar,

    1. Mano is indeed correct when he observes that there are no supernatural beings in the Harry Potter books. Beings such as ghosts dragons, or for that matter flying people that appear as supernatural to the muggles, are simply a part of the natural wizarding world.

    2. Your entire objection to any form of practice reduces to your perception of the morals of the practitioner. FYI, every ethical system or moral code is relative. Positing a moral code as absolute does not make it so.

    Stating that the Wiccan Rede is inadequate is analogous to stating that Jesus’s statement that paraphrases to “you shall know who follows God by the fruit of their labors” is inadequate.

    3. Magic in Harry Potter is similar to a technology. It simply has a different context. Yes, you have to be born with the ability, but the series never goes into its origins.

  6. Thought Shaman says

    A friend sent the link to me last week.

    The dancer switches frequently for me. I can consistently initiate a switch by mentally solving a simple quadratic equation. Relaxing and subsequently focusing on my feelings initiates a switch in the other direction.

    I have even got the dancer to do 180 degrees arcs in both directions, though I forget my observations of my mental gymnastics while doing so.

  7. Zar says

    1. Mano is indeed correct when he observes that there are no supernatural beings in the Harry Potter books. Beings such as ghosts dragons, or for that matter flying people that appear as supernatural to the muggles, are simply a part of the natural wizarding world.

    But by this logic, then there is no such thing as a Supernatural being. The movie “Clash of the Titaisn” has no superntural beigns, either.The gods in that film are simply a aprt of the natural world they occupy.

    Even Mano’s favourite punchingbag of Christianity fails, since Angels, Demons, Miracles, and God are all just part of the natural world of Christainity. They aren’t, thus, Supernatural.

    But Mano woudln’t argue that, now owudl he?

    Sorry, I’m not buyign this one, the whole poitn of his ost is like every other ppst I’ve ever read, he wants ot run down belif in God, clal it irraitonal, and praise every argument tagisn tit withotu evaluating it, al the hwole ignorign any evidence to the ocntrary and oversimplyign things, and now he wants ot say Harry Potter lacks Supernaturla beigns?

    You cna’t say GHosts arne’t supernatural, and be credible. Dragons you can, because at leats they ar animals, but Ghosts? WIzards?

    It doesn’t mater where the poewer coems form, no part of the definitoon of “Supernatural” refers to “Comign form soem sort of diety”, unless Mano has once again redefined the word to suit his own agenda again.

    2. Your entire objection to any form of practice reduces to your perception of the morals of the practitioner. FYI, every ethical system or moral code is relative. Positing a moral code as absolute does not make it so.

    Now your not makign any sence, I didn’t make a Moral argument. I did presnt why Christains, and Jews,a nd Muslism tend to fidn Magic to be Immoral, and presented their arugment, but I did htis in contrast to Mano’s own claims.

    And to show the exact reaosnign behidn it.


    Stating that the Wiccan Rede is inadequate is analogous to stating that Jesus’s statement that paraphrases to “you shall know who follows God by the fruit of their labors” is inadequate.

    Not nessisairly. You see, Jesus’s teahcign you presnted above is not even a Mroal commandment, its an observation.

    The Rede is, however, a mroal edict that is suppose to eb binding.

    This is why the two you mentioend differ. One is Binding, the other is observatonal.

    That said, you shoudl ave ppitned to other thigns JEus said, such as ” Lov eone another” or soem other ocmamndment, btu even here it fials. I’m not tlakign abotutheh REdde itsself btu the REde in context of Wicca.

    Wicca has no philosophical framework to identify moral right and wrong, and is diliberatley relitivistic.The problem withhtis is that “Harm none” then is reaidly intperete dby eahc individual. Indeed, what is right and wrogn are determiend by the individual, and Wicca also teaches that we cnanot easily impose one set of mroal standards on all Wiccans. THus, what is right and wrong is ultimatley determiend by the individual practicioner. So is what cinstitutes Harm.

    Christainity is rooted in a much older tradition that has rathe rlengthy moral precepts and ocncepts, and that itsself added and refined many of those concepts in its own adaption,a nd is far form relitivistic.

    This is simply a true statement, byt he way, I am not argukng agaisnt Wicca so much as poinitng out the fact that those whoobject to a Magical system do so base dupon an underlyign asumption with it.

    Wicca itsself is simply used here as a poitn to be made.


    3. Magic in Harry Potter is similar to a technology. It simply has a different context. Yes, you have to be born with the ability, but the series never goes into its origins.

    Origins arne’t relaly important, though.

    Even thugh Mano and others confuse Miracles with Magic, doesn’t eman they are, nor does Magics origin need to rest in a god in order to make it supernatural.

    Tehcnology cna be use dby Anyone. My computer cna be use dny anyone. A car can be use dby anyone. A refridgeratr can be use dby anyone.

    Harry Potter’s Magic can’t be used by just anyone,a nd can’t nbe learne dby just anyone.

    This is what in the ned seperates it form Tecnology.

    Ots origins ar eunimportant tot he point.

  8. Zar says

    Incedentlaly, its not evben relaly abotu Harry potter, ti sjust more of the usual with Mano’s attacks on “god” as he mospsells it.

    He thinks Harry Potter books shoudl have God in them because Wizards are.

    This is SPurious logic. No, God woudln’t be “The biggest, baddest wizard out there” and Harry Potter’s world is said by Mano to be like our own, so we’d expect God not to intervene if the Magic in Harry potter where “just tehcnology” and his whole premise is self contradictory, and exosts only to mock God. ( I say mock because you can’t honestly use his as a real-world argument, its a Kiddie fiction book.)

    And Mano’s spellign of god in lower case is all about continuing that rienforcement. Its about emotionally attacking the concept. Nothign more.

  9. says

    Thanks for the suggestions on how to make the dancer twirl the other way. I tried them but with little success. When I did the blinking thing (some kind of stroboscopic effect?), I could get the dancer to go clockwise for a very brief moment but then she went the other way again and I could not switch her anymore.

    I am wondering if this inability of mine to do this is connected to the same visual inability to see the 3-D images in the Magic Eye pictures that were the craze some years ago. I never ever was able to see the things I was supposed to see in them.

    Ah well, some things are not to be…

  10. Zar says

    And Ive noted that I am beign ignored. THeres the open minded repsonce.
    Insult peopels beelifs, misrepresent htem with poor aruments, call everoyne irraitonal, and even go so far as to read into kiddie books an athisic message, and yet no address to anyoen who wodl see through this.

    Mano isn’t raitonal and logical, he’s just anti-Theistic and prefers ot think fo everhtign in temrs of proving that beleif in God is wrong.

  11. says

    Zar,

    I’m puzzled by your claim about open-mindedness. The process is quite simple. I post my views on a topic. Readers respond with their own views. The other readers reach their own conclusions. What more do you expect?

  12. Zar says

    For one, I expect more civil conduct.

    Keep in mind numeorus arguments from you have been poor, and in fact insuling.

    So are the False DIchotomies between “Religius people ” and “Sicnetists”. Do you relalythink no Sicntists beleive sin God?

    Or the misspellign of God, intentionally. (No, I don’t buy the generic if you use He to describe him.)

    Or the false arguemtns such as “THe Mysteriosu ways claise” and the “Hifdden God Hypothesis” which no oen in theology uses. ( WHich yo say contradicts other cliasm of God revealignhimself.)

    And ths whole post abotu Harry Potter misses why most peopel who object ot Harry Potter Obect to Harry Potter.

    And before you leap tp this conclusion, no, I don’t oppose Harry Potters eixstance, though I do find the books boring.

    However, the reason Harry Potter is objected to is misrepresente dby you, as ar e”Religious people”, and most of the arugment sput forward.

    It just seems that your blog exists so you can mock and degrade those who happen to beeliv ein God, not to present hoenst refelction. How can you present Honest rfleciton, afte rlal, if all you have read on the topic are the worlks of Militant extrmeists liek Dawkisn and Harris?

    Yoru an Ahtiest, I know this, fine. DOes that mean you HAVE to tll religiosu peopel what to think, as int he HArry Potter arugmet, and why they “Have it all wrong”?

    Giventhat you don’t even understand why it sbeign objectd to, why eben mention it?

    Spoeakign of which, why wodl we expect God to be “The biggest baddest wizrd of all” and to shwo up in Harry Potter? Harry potter is our world, but iwth Wazards in it. THats th eonly real difference. If God doesn’t show up much in our world, he’d not show up much in theres. Its just a facile arugment.

    In fact, it seems a pretty thin veil for your own contempt of those who happen to ebelive in God.

    Which seems tohe real reaosn for the post on Potter, to firther muse over a world qithout God, and one in which you can tlak abtuh the foibles of poor diluded rleigiosu people.

    And I’m not trign to be unfiar here, btu reading your blog is not pleasant presiciely because you have no repsect for nayones view on God, othe rhtan the atheistic view.

    Do you have to say beleiving in God is irraitonal? Yoru only support for htis is an argument that in and of itssel fis Irraitonal. Nothign you said addressed what acutal beelivers in God think, btu rather your own caracaturisation fo them. Much liek your catacaturisaiton fo religion in general, and what religion can do. Your supposition that all the good rleigion does can be supplanted by sexccular institutions lik rotati clubs for instance overlooks the motivaitonal power that Religiosn have that Rotari clubs lack.

    In fact, you don’t even care about any of the researhc in religion or religiosu studies that show numerous benifits to religious beleifs, and instead dismiss it casually.

    But even though the good religion can do can be done elsewhere,you seem tot hink the evil doen intehame of religion is simply the product of religion.

    Hell, you even wrote an articl eon why rleigion makes pepel mroe prone to violence. IT wa salso poorly agued and contradicts numeorus studies, but it makes sence as it demonises “Religiosu people”.

    SO what do you expect me to soudn like when addresisng you?

    You may htink me presumptuousor ill, but then again, the ever so charmign RIchard Dawkisn talks much more harshly when speakign of “Faith-sufferers” and you seem tothink hes ever so cleaver and nice. At least Im not tryign to comoletley degrade you and all Atheists.

    WHich is the other point, you seem to promote the worst arguments and most hatefilled bigots simply because they help you feel intellectually superior.

    Thats what it coems off as.

    I’ve been told you are warm and friendly in prson, and the otne of the blog is simply not a reflection fo who you are.PErhaos this is true. However, I woudl always wonder if I did meet you in person if your warm and friendly smile and hardy handshake wherne’tjust a cover for your real beelifs. After all, you boaste din one aritlce on how firnedly you where to a theist you had dinner with. It eas all rather self congratulatory as you proved how firnely you where capable of beign wihtout beignign up the problems with their beleifs, but you just cmae off soudnign like a condescending and arrogant clod who thinks that because he can keep his mouth shut and smile at the ight times he’s somehow a nice guy.

    Still, Open malice is better than hidden love.

    I’m sorry that I’ve had to make a lenghty post that wil undoubtabely seem as an attakc, but I’ve had my fill here, and won’t return much.

    It snot liek you’d even boher to engage a real conversation n matters that you critise, or correct your arguments. I cant even get you to spell God in a capital, just put pf respect for grammer if nothign else.

    SOw hats the pount?

    Yoru closed mindedness and intolerance combined with a pseudo-intelelctual argumentation that lends to a condecending arrogance to create the image of the firndly, smiling proffessor who tears down everythign you beleiv ein and mocks your intelelct,a nd tells you hwo much more intellegent he is than you, all while soudnign ever so pleasant in tone.

    It doens’t improve the message, nd comes off epecilaly flatin light of how rotten your argumetns where.

  13. says

    I’m not a fan of Harry Potter, I don’t read its books but I’ve watched the movies. Yes, indeed, the movie is great and I admire Rowling for her great imaginations.

    “The absence of god and the devil and other supernatural entities may reflect Rowling’s own religious perspective but may also be due to the concrete needs of fantasy writers.”

    Actually, it is a work of fantasy. And I think religion will not be an issue for this is only what the writer’s thoughts.

    What we ought to know are the life lessons we got in this beautiful book and movie.

  14. says

    I object to Harry Potter on aliterary level, not a religous one. It annoys me that literature is basically dead–every modern novel lacks all complexity–it either has action, magic or some other form of escapism. Escapism can be good, but it’s horrible that it’s literally taking over the entire field of literature. Harry Potter is a children’s book–I need say no more.

  15. says

    I love the Harry Potter movies and don’t think they promote witchcraft at all. They may however prompt an interest in the spiritual and supernatural.

  16. says

    Why not believe in magic? There is plenty of proof that the power of the mind is able to achieve almost anything, and that is what magic taps into. Fairy tales are about magical realms, there is always some truth in those stories. Lighting a candle is used in magic, and in religion, where does one end and the other start? I think people confuse magic with their own fears and prejudices.

  17. says

    Stating that the Wiccan Rede is inadequate is analogous to stating that Jesus’s statement that paraphrases to “you shall know who follows God by the fruit of their labors” is inadequate.

    Ok, you have my full attention now. I am and have been a Wiccan High Priest for many years now. How is it that you see the Rede as inadaquate?

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