Article ID: 6344
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 5,429
Times Read: 24,981
Author: Dana Corby
Posted: June 15th. 2003
Times Viewed: 24,981
"Harry Potter promotes magic, witchcraft and satanism!"
"Harry Potter is pure fantasy and has nothing to do with real magic, or witchcraft or satanism!"
"Harry Potter teaches evil to our children!"
"Harry Potter teaches children strong ethical values!"
"Harry Potter should be banned!"
"Harry Potter is the best thing that's ever happened to promote children's literacy!"
I haven't heard such an uproar over what children should be allowed to read since I was in the sixth grade (in 1957, if you must know) and a parents group wanted the Tarzan books pulled from the school library because Tarzan & Jane were "living in sin." And weren't they embarrassed when the exact page on which the wedding occurs was shown to them.
The issues surrounding Harry Potter are far more complex and are not going to be resolved by merely showing the books to those concerned about them. The conservative Christians who object to the Harry Potter books are correct in that the words "witchcraft," "magic" and "wizardry" appear on nearly every page. That the words "satan" and "satanism" appear nowhere in any of the Harry Potter books does little to assuage their fears. The words "god" and "religion" aren't mentioned, either.
It doesn't help matters much that I and nearly every other Witch I know loves the Harry Potter books.
When the first book in the series hit the market, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Witches around the world went on alert. Because there is so much incorrect folklore about modern-day Witches, we keep a very close eye on the media's representation of Witches and Witchcraft. Just like Christian parents, we are especially concerned about literature which links Witchcraft (or Wicca, as many of us prefer to have it called) and satanism. We agree with them that satanism is not anything we want our children involved in; we just adamantly contend that it has nothing to do with us.
So some of us bought the book, just to see what it was about and tell the rest of us. At first, we were greatly relieved: we weren't going to have to defend our civil rights again just because somebody had printed a lot of garbage and labeled it "witchcraft." It was so obviously a harmless fantasy, surely nobody could mistake it for the truth about anything. And then the outcry against Harry Potter went up. People actually believed that the Harry Potter books were satanic! They thought that the "spells" in its pages would actually work! We were flabbergasted.
Then the media wanted to talk to "real witches" about it. And in every interview we told them that Harry Potter was a charming fantasy and a great read, but that (1) it does not even vaguely resemble real magic, (2) it does not encourage (much less teach) witchcraft or sorcery, and (3) it has nothing to do with satanism. And by the way, (4) neither do we.
And then the interviewer asks, "So why do Witches love Harry Potter?" and we don't have very good answers beyond, "Because it's fun!" That doesn't do justice either to us as readers, or to a powerful allegory of good and evil as it is played out in the real world. It's time to seriously examine some the reasons for the appeal of Harry Potter to readers in general and Witches in particular.
The biggest hue and cry has been over the depiction of magic and spells in the Harry Potter books. But this depiction is neither realistic in terms of what Witches in our world do, nor faithful to the magic in traditional tales. It's much more like the magic found in movies like The Wizard of Oz or Pinocchio, or in the Sorcerer's Apprentice segment of Fantasia. Pure fantasy. The spells in traditional tales work because they are performed (or given to the hero/ine) by inherently magical non-human beings such as fairies or elves. In the real world they work only if they are constructed correctly, somewhat like an algebraic equation or a recipe. But anyone can do them if they have the aptitude and some training.
The one thing about the magic in Harry Potter's world that is true in ours is that it is not supernatural. No pacts with the devil, or prayers to gods or saints, are necessary to do magic in his world any more than in ours. A witch or wizard* in Harry's world, as in ours, can be the child of perfectly ordinary mortals like dentists. Even the born witches and wizards are ordinary mortals with a little something extra about them that just has to be trained, a hereditary ability like wiggling one's ears or curling one's tongue. But c'mon! Nobody can just wave a wand while blurting something in amusingly-mangled Latin and expect to work magic. Which, to be honest, is part of the fun for real- world Witches: only in our dreams is magic that easy and the result that spectacular!
Magic is a talent, like being artistic or athletic or good in school. Some people have it, and of those, some have a lot and some have a little. Some are good at one kind of magic and some at another, just as some artists paint, others sculpt, and others blow glass. In the real world, the results of magic are subtle, usually invisible to those who are not looking for them, and are aimed not at transmogrifying beetles into buttons or petrifying people, but at improving one's (or one's friends') quality of life. We use magic to help the sick, improve the odds for job-seekers, or create more harmony in someone's life. Yet in both Harry's world and ours, the society of magical people is mostly closed off from that of non-magical people, and for the same reason: hatred.
The theme of good versus evil in the Harry Potter books has been repeatedly mentioned. I have yet to see an article showing that the reviewer actually understood what they were reading. The theme of the Harry Potter stories is not merely good versus evil, it is a specific good versus a specific evil. Harry Potter teaches the power of love versus the power of hate.
Several writers have mentioned viewing Harry Potter as a Christ-like figure, but that's not quite right. If there is a Christ-figure in these stories it is one we never meet: Harry's mother. It was she whose love shielded the infant Harry from the murderous attack of the evil Lord Voldemort. She died in that same attack, as did Harry's father. Because she gave her life to save Harry, the power of Lord Voldemort rebounded upon him and was broken; he himself almost died. Yet the evil Voldemort had created in the "wizarding world" (the secret subculture of magical folk living unnoticed amidst non-magical society) survived, to raise its head again and again against Harry and the decent folk of both the wizarding and Muggle (non-magical) worlds.
Yet unlike the villains in most children's fiction these days, Lord Voldemort doesn't glory in his own evil much less serve any ultimate principle of darkness or evil. Like real-life villains, he gives no thought to good and evil, only to what he believes and wants. He believes, moreover, that he is right and everyone else is wrong, and that when he has remade society the way he thinks it should be, everyone will either do things his way or be dead. He doesn't much care which.
Voldemort can only have been based on Adolph Hitler: his rise to power is created by appealing to the fears, prejudices, and in some cases snobbery of wizarding society. He preaches racial purity, advocating the destruction or enslavement of all who are not from "pureblood" wizarding families. His and his followers' treatment of non-human magical creatures such as house-elves is extremely cruel, echoing the forced slavery of non-Jewish prisoners in Third Reich war industry. Their term for Muggles, "mudbloods," even echoes the racial rhetoric of the Nazi party**. Yet as the child of a Muggle and a witch Voldemort does not meet his own standards of racial purity, just as Hitler the swarthy Austrian was anything but the Arian ideal.
Harry, too, is half Muggle: his witch mother was from a Muggle family, and like the cuckoo's egg he was placed in the wrong nest with 'parents' - his mother's sister and her stuffy husband - unable to cope with him. Voldemort is also a cuckoo's chick, having been placed in an orphanage by a Muggle father not just unable but totally unwilling to raise him. The parallels between Harry and Voldemort are striking and become pivotal to the story's plot. Yet while Harry remains a kind and decent person, Voldemort is filled with hate and rage.
Voldemort hates Muggles, he hates Squibs (children of magical families born with no magic to speak of), he hates anything and everything he doesn't control or can't destroy. He hates his own followers, and one comes to suspect he hates himself. Certainly he hates the self he has become since his attack on Harry failed, which means he hates Harry most of all.
When you look closely at the problems Harry must handle in each story, they all involve hate or its watered-down cousin, prejudice. His aunt and uncle are prejudiced against magic to the point of hatred, so they treat him abominably. Professor Snape is prejudiced against Harry because he detested Harry's father when they were in school together. Harry's friend Hagrid, a half-giant, is the victim of racial prejudice that lands him in the wizard prison, Azkaban. In The Chamber of Secrets, Harry is suspected by his fellow-students of having cast petrifying spells on several people, simply because of a previously- unsuspected magical ability to communicate with snakes. For that matter, there seems to be - as in our world - considerable prejudice against snakes. His favorite teacher, a kind and wise man, loses his job due to discrimination. It seems he's a werewolf.
Some of Harry's problems actually come from positive prejudice: because everyone in the wizarding world knows the tale of how Harry lived through Lord Voldemort's attack, he comes into this new world famous and hero-worshipped. It's hard to cope with. People misjudge his motives and misinterpret his actions. On the one hand he gets away with things that would get other students expelled, and on the other he's accused of being a publicity-seeking phony. Few people bother to get to know the real Harry either way.
Witches can relate. We've all had people we thought we could be honest with decide they no longer wanted to be our friend. Most of us have had family members reject the new (and true) us. We've all seen the courts decide against Witches on the basis of our beliefs, had employers fire us and then lie about why, lost homes to landlords' mistaken assumptions about what would be "going on in there." Like Harry, we've had neighbors stop allowing their children to play with ours when word of who we are gets out. We can relate to Harry Potter.
There's something powerful about the figure of this scrawny, near-sighted orphan boy that children - and Witches - find compelling. Something about Harry Potter that makes the right reader feel as if Harry's story were his-or-her story, despite the obvious fact that this is a fantasy that could not possibly happen to anyone.
On the surface, Harry Potter is a classic ugly duckling story, one of the great archetypes in literature. Misfit, rejected, even abused, Harry one day finds all that changed. He enters into a world where all that made him a pariah in his former life makes him admired, even famous. No longer forced to suffer in silence and alone, he blooms into an extrovert, an athlete, and a friend. But the ugly duckling analogy doesn't quite cover all of Harry's appeal; J.K. Rowling's writing is a lot more sophisticated than Hans Christian Anderson's.
In the ugly duckling or its Cinderella variant, the story ends when the ugly duckling becomes a swan, the cinder wench becomes a princess. The Harry Potter stories go on from there and he finds that life in the wizarding world has its own problems. Not everyone is nice; some are even outright evil. Some people suck up to him because of his notoriety, and some despise him for the same reason or none. In short, the people in his new world are much like the people in the old one, and he must learn to live among them just the same. The difference is that the people in the wizarding world accept what he is even when they don't like him.
This is why so many children, and almost all Witches, love Harry Potter. Many children, especially very intelligent ones, go through a phase in their lives (generally between the ages of nine and twelve) during which they suspect that "this isn't my real family." Otherwise, they reason, why would they feel like baffled outsiders in their own homes? Why is everything they do, say or feel somehow wrong? Witches are often people who never got over that feeling and went searching for answers. The concept of magic explained things to us as nothing else did, the Classical mythologies we were exposed to in school awoke deep spiritual resonances, and often we saw or heard things we were told were not real though we knew otherwise.
In order to get by, to "pass," to keep the peace in the family, our true selves were locked in the cupboard under the stairs until one day our "letter from Hogwarts" arrived. It might have been a friend who lent us a book, or a chance landing on just the right website. It might have been anything. But like Harry Potter, we all now live in two worlds, neither one of which is perfect but one of which is our true Home.
* In the real world, the word "witch" is gender-neutral and thus applies to both men and women who practice magic. There's no such thing as a wizard any more, although through the Middle Ages and Renaissance many men (and a few women) we would now call scientists or paranormal researchers were referred to as wizards.
** As adopted from the racist writings of the Thule Society, which referred to Asians, "Mediterranean" Whites and Native Americans as "mud men" and claimed that they were inferior mutations from the "pure" Northern European (so-called "Arian") stock. Jews and Blacks were not even considered true humans.
Location: Anderson Island, Washington
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Bio: Dana Corby began her studies in Witchcraft in 1970 and was initiated into the Mohsian Tradition in 1973. She's been a teaching priestess ever since. Probably best known for her work on Gwydion Penderwen's 1975 LP, "Songs for the Old Religion," Dana considers her writing and Community work to be her most important contributions to the Craft and Pagan world. In 1998, she, her husband and another couple founded the Tacoma Earth Religions Revival Association for Pagan outreach in Tacoma, WA. She is one of the contributors to "Keepers of the Flame," an oral-history book edited by Morgana Davies and Aradia Lynch (shameless plug.)
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