December 18, 2017

On Harry Potter and Wicca: A Helpful Letter

harry-potter-and-the-order-of-the-phoenix-wii_03.jpgHarry Potter will be much discussed soon as both the book and the next movie appear in July. IM lurker Brian sent me this letter in response to a BHT post linking an anti-Harry Potter “ministry.”

Brian discusses the claim of a connection between HP and interest in Wicca. Very interesting and valuable discussion and resources.

Dear Michael,

I read your post on one Christian’s association of Harry Potter with Wiccan growth with interest.

As it happens, I am heavily involved in outreach to Wiccans and occultists, and I’d like to address some misconceptions.

1) I’ve never met a Wiccan who was not a convert from Christianity (although converts from Judaism do exist).

2) I’ve never met a former Christian/current Wiccan who converted because of Harry Potter.

Real people leave Christianity for Wicca for, from my observation, one of four basic reasons:

1) Abuse. Just about every Wiccan or pagan I’ve met — with VERY few exceptions — has this in their background somewhere. Abuse. Physical. Spiritual. Sexual. Or all of the above. Not just the little stuff, either. From someone they loved. Someone they trusted. Often a family member or a respected church member. For whom the church covered as likely as not, while telling the victim that they were at fault, or demon-possessed, or lying.

These are the hardest ones to reach. They’ve all heard the preaching and the pretty words about love and forgiveness. The thing is, they’ve also seen the *actions* of the people preaching those words. Often suffered them, in their own body. And so they can’t believe any more. To them, it is all a bright, shining lie.

IMO, folks who are concerned about their kids leaving the faith should pay much more attention to zipper control than anything else. Raise your kids in a warm, loving environment … and communicate that is what Jesus is about… the odds of them staying are much higher.

2) Revolt against dogma. These would be the smart kids in Sunday School who questioned why they were being taught that the earth was created in seven literal days, and were never given a good answer. Instead, they were told to sit down, shut up, and believe. Blind faith in religious dogma was
encouraged, critical thinking was not.

Darwin, not Rowling, was their reason for leaving the Christian faith. There then followed a couple of years of misery as an atheist while they discovered that they needed a spiritual component in their lives after all, so they chose one which offers spirituality without dogma or fixed rules. The one dogma of Wicca is that there will be no dogma :).

3) Revolt against patriarchy. This is a big one especially with women. Rightly or wrongly, these women were fed a spiritual worldview of a male God ruling over women who were subordinates — slaves — and they revolted against it. They’d much rather serve a feminine goddess who was kind/understanding/tolerant and didn’t throw people into Hell for what is perceived to be the slightest pretext.

4) Revolt against Christian sexual mores. Wicca embraces polygamy, polyandry, and homosexuality. There are people out there who found they didn’t care for strict heterosexual monogamy for-as-long-as-we-both-shall-live, and chose a belief system that will embrace or even celebrate their lifestyle rather than condemning it.

I would put Harry Potter wayyyyy down at the bottom of the list of influences. Fairy tales … The sort told in every southern nursery or ghost stories told
around campfires — figure more prominently in the Wiccan mind than anything by Ms. Rowling. ‘The Mists of Avalon‘ by Marion Zimmer Bradley is also another big one.

Why not? Well, the thing you’ve got to keep in mind is that Wiccans (as a rule) believe that all paths are equally valid. Consequently, they have no particular reason to evangelize people to their path, or to keep them on it if they stray. Wicca is hard to get into, easy to get out of.

Stories like Harry Potter … Or movies like the Craft, and I suspect the movies are a far bigger influence… generate a temporary influx of what Wiccans call ‘teen witches’. These are wannabe adolescents who go out and buy pentacles because they’re kewl. They come in bubbling with enthusiasm, then they discover how much work Wicca really is, and they drift right back out. Very few make it through to initiation. Remember, Wicca is a mystery religion and as such it takes some effort and serious commitment to get into even the lowest of the three levels. A person who’s come in because of something they read in a kid’s fantasy novel ain’t going to last.

My friend Victoria is a former Wiccan (a real, initiated one) who has been a Baptist for more than five years. Here is her review of the first Harry Potter movie. And another one is here.

Witchvox — a magazine by and for witches — has a few reviews of Harry Potter novels and movies here. I think you will find them interesting. And another.

Including one by a thirteen-year-old witch
.

And here’s one discussing the impact of HP on people coming in.

I sincerely regret the astounding amount of attention paid to Ms. Rowling. I dunno about you, but I got lots of books on ghosts, witches, and magicians through the scholastic book club when I was in grade school that were far more objectionable, yet no one seems to make any noise about those. In any case, the current freaking out over Rowling is a sign of serious weakness of the faith as practiced by her detractors. A faith which can be shaken to it’s core by a simple children’s story is a faith with serious problems, wouldn’t you agree? 1600 years ago, Christian philosophers taught the Pagan classics to Christian students, and those were far more threatening to faith than a children’s story. How can one who can’t stomach Rowling dare to introduce his children to Aristotle, Plato, Sophocles, Homer? What does it say of the foundation when even a small pebble like Rowling can threaten it?

This is a rapid response. I am sending copies of this to Wiccan and Ex-Wiccan friends of mine, and also to a pastor in Salem, MA who deals with these issues all the time. I will pass along any corrections they offer.

Respectfully,

Brian

Comments

  1. John M. says:

    That is VERY interesting. But you know, for the people who insist Potter is a threat, this article is just too long and articulate for them. They wouldn’t even be able to understand it.

  2. When I was in elementary school, I desparately wanted to see a movie called “Escape from Witch Mountain” but I was not allowed to because the word “Witch” was in the title. So, unsupervised, I read the book. There wasn’t a witch in it. Aliens who communicated by esp, yes, witches, no. Christians definitely get silly from time to time and my 70’s mom, who made her own granola, admits that this was silly.

  3. I think it was Doug Wilson who said that if (and its a big IF) your child were to desert Christianity because of HP, is says much more about you than what it says about HP.

  4. Good letter.
    Obviously, this isn’t going to be really swinging opinions from the Anti-Potter camp–probably just butressing those of the other side–but it’s good to see people who do have *some* sort of authority on the topic calling the spade that is over-reaction a spade.

  5. Thanks, Mike, for putting this up.

    I have heard back from Ms. Shephard, who read the essay, and she had some comments:

    “Nicely written. I like it. My only correction would be that I’ve been Baptist
    for well over 5 years. Perhaps it would have been better to just say that I’ve
    been Christian over 10 years, most of that time in the Baptist church.

    Strictly speaking, convert away from Christianity weren’t Christian in the first
    place (else they wouldn’t have left). I *thought* I was a Christian at that
    time, but looking back now I see that I wasn’t.”

    ========
    I can’t dispute the first paragraph. I will rebut the second in that the *current* wiccans/former Christians I know will insist — sometimes violently — that yes, they were real Christians and get offended when someone suggests their previous faith was somehow lacking.

    This, of course, is a dispute centering on 1 John 2:19 — can a Christian “lose” their salvation? Or did they just not have it in the first place? And what if they get saved later? Did they have it, then lose it, then get it back? Or did they always have it ?

    An interesting discussion — for another time and place.

    Oh, and I did have one person whose journey is Judaism-to-Wicca-to-Messianic-Judaism write to tell me that now I knew ONE Jewish convert to Wicca 🙂

    Respectfully,

    Brian P.

  6. Additional update:

    This from Moonhunter, a former Anglican lay leader turned Heathen (which is NOT the same thing as Wiccan — Heathens try to rebuild the original pre-Christian European religions, Wicca is considered a modern innovation) …

    “A big factor I’ve seen in why some people convert is the perception of being abandoned by God. You know the routine – praying hard for something, struggling for years, being told toe expect something and nothing comes. In the end you give up, or run out of energy.”

    Respectfully,

    Brian P.

  7. I’m the former Wiccan Brian referenced in his letter who doesn’t have a huge problem with Harry Potter. “Charmed” gets on my nerves for other reasons, but HP is barely a blip on the radar.

    I won’t argue the “lose your salvation” thing, and I can’t speak for others whether their faith was real before they left Christianity. I just know that in *my* case, it definitely wasn’t real, though I didn’t realize that until I actually *did* become a Christian much later.

  8. Brian has a phenomenal grasp of the realities behind conversion – regardless of the “from” and “to”. I, personally, left the Christian Faith for a few reasons, not the least of which was #2 on his list (Dogma vs. Science) and have discovered that Paganism is more suited to my personality and my perceptions of how the world work. I did not leave because of a movie, book, or even a “friend”…truth be told, I stumbled across the idea during a time when religion was the least of my concerns and it just seemed to make sense. For a Pagan, the HP books/movies are simply that: fiction. There is as much reality (in regards to a Pagan/Wiccan perception of beliefs) in HP as there is in the 80’s TV Show “Alf”.

    You nailed it, Brian – 100%!

    James (Roknrol)

  9. Fantastic piece!

    What does it say of the foundation when even a small pebble like Rowling can threaten it?

    And there you have an incredibly profound statement. Let’s help our children build on the rock, and then we won’t have to worry about some little book!

  10. I lost a friend, because my husband and I allowed our kids to read HP. She was concerned that the influence of HP was so strong that it would not only suck my kids into witchcraft, but hers just by association. WOW! Sad. BTW, my son who was 12 at the time is 21 and preparing to go into the ministry…and is really looking forward to the next HP book.

  11. David Reimer says:

    I’m all for dispelling myths, and there’s little I can see to argue with in Brian’s cogent letter.

    The “but” is this:

    Explaining — even demonstrating — that HP books do not make Wiccan converts does not alter the perception that HP books effectively blur the lines concerning licit and illicit spiritual power.

    In the same way that I would not give my kids books to read that blur the lines of sexual morality (for example), neither would I encourage them to read books that create space in their imagination for exercising “power” that the Bible forbids.

  12. This is very helpful. Thanks for posting this, and thanks to Brian for sending you this letter.

    Scylding: great quote from (maybe) Doug Wilson.

  13. David:

    You should look up C.S. Lewis’s comments on “magic” in fiction. As a parent, you should follow your conscience, of course. But your stated position makes a lot of literature- actually most literature- off base. King Arthur. Fairy Tales. Majority of Disney movies involving any magic. Lord of the Rings. All kinds of fantasy. Classic Mythology and literature of other cultures.

    I respect your position, but I just don’t see how you can do it without restricting your kids to the Christian books store.

    My generation (b. 1956) had zero anti occult emphasis in church. No problem with any of this. The majority of occultists today are recruited right out of evangelical Christian homes that believe the entire Mike Warnke worldview. I think young people can think clearly on this. What they need is the truth of the Gospel, not protection from books where animals talk and kids fly on brooms.

  14. David Reimer says:

    Michael:

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply to my comments. The points you make are certainly worth pondering! Some quick notes by way of response:

    I didn’t say that books that mention “magic” are off limits. I tried to be more careful than that! I don’t believe it is simply a matter of “magic mentioned, therefore verboten!” Rather, my concern was with reading that encourages messing-with-what-ought-not-be-messed-with. Read Narnia, and an eight year old boy might want to be Prince Caspian, say (speaking autobiographically). Read HP, and who (or what) does your eight year old want to be?

    Judged by this criterion, the list you offer isn’t really a problem, nor is my reaction so knee-jerk. I am asking for discernment.

    (In fact, this begins to address the issues that Brian raises towards the end of his piece, about studying ancient philosophers and what not. He wasn’t quite comparing like with like, was he? Two observations/asides on that: 1. “studying” Aristotle, Plato, Sophocles, Homer is quite a different business than devouring HP! and 2. it’s not so much of matter of “shaking the core of children’s faith”, as it is exposing them, IMO, to spiritual forces that are on the side of darkness rather than light.)

    And, of course, there are oodles of good books one won’t find in Christian bookstores still to choose from. I’m a geezer (see below), but I can attest that the appeal of, say, Arthur Ransome or Helen Cresswell or even Robert Heinlein’s children’s SF, continues unabated. There must be loads more.

    Interestingly enough, my generation (b. 1956) [sic], had a limited but significant anti-occult emphasis in church. However, I have never heard of Mike Warnke, so I’m not sure what’s at stake there. Kids do need the truth of the Gospel, not encouragement to look for power in the wrong places.

  15. I’d also recommend John Granger’s distinction between invocational and incantational magic in Looking for God in Harry Potter.

    Excellent, helpful letter Brian. I’ll be referencing this often.

  16. I talk HP with high school kids all the time. None of them want to be wizards (and I have kids into atheism and the occult every year.) They want to be J.K. Rowling.

    HP was the salvation of my son’s academic life. It made him a reader. His mom jumped right into the books with him. It contributed to his love of writing, and today that is bearing major fruit as he’s been invited to the prestigious Appalachian Writer’s workshop.

    Teaching literature and working with at-risk kids has left me completely convinced of the point Brian is making. And with all due respect, that the typical evangelical approach is more likely to get us a Marilyn Manson than reading HP is to do the same thing.

    In the IM archives, leif rigney has an excellent essay on Harry Potter. leif is a college english professor and a Christian.

    What matters most is a parent’s love and interest in a child’s development and soul. God bless you in that.

    Google Mike Warnke or see him at wikipedia.

  17. David Reimer says:

    Sorry — I seem to have reverted to the “HP Converts Kids to Wicca” argument as I drew my last comment to a close. That isn’t my concern, and it clearly isn’t yours!

    I do want my kids to be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might. What I’m not seeing is how HP helps that, while seeing how it could hinder it.

    Or maybe I’ve just taken The Screwtape Letters too much to heart.

    You write: “What matters most is a parent’s love and interest in a child’s development and soul.” Amen!

  18. As I understand it, the whole witchcraft thing is much more public and open in Europe and especially England than it is here in the U.S. Here it is still seen as “make believe” in a lot of ways. Part of that is the U.S. fascination with science, which is ultimately the highest authority in the States, because of all the technological gadgets we get.

    I was opposed to HP for a long time — until I started to read the books. There certainly are parts that are questionable — however HP reflects ideological categories that are quite Western. Good vs. Evil, Light vs. Dark, etc. If this was written 25+ years ago and we called it an allegory and said that Voldermort was a Soviet, and the Death Eaters were the communists, while HP was Ronald Regan or some other conservative-capitalist defender of “freedom” would there really be a problem? I’m just saying that in every other scenario parents and Christians support the “good guy/side” but now are saying no to HP. Is this rejection of HP really about HP or a concern over the lack of influence and power that Christian parents have/are losing in the school systems and in society in general?

    How is it that Christians are so quick to send their kids to Narnia, Star Wars, or Lord of the Rings or even when the Matrix movies were popular (I’ve heard people preach off of LOTR and the Matrix series) but HP is off limits? HP is told from the perspective of Harry (the side of good) just like Narnia or LOTR. Good is seen as good and evil is evil in the series. And on top of that, they are good pieces of writing. I’m waiting for the last book so I can be done with it and move on. I think that there are other hills to die on than HP. Thanks for listening!

  19. I’ve been involved in ceremonial magick and the study of renaissance neo-Platonism for 30 years or so and during that time I’ve encountered a fair number of pagans and witches from different traditions in both Europe and north America. I think you’re over playing the abuse aspects, you may encounter the ones who were damaged, but I’ve not. In my experience the other three reasons are far more important. I moved over because of the dogma reason for example. I’ve found that most neo-pagans are actually from the protestant traditions whilst those drawn to ceremonial magick are ex-Catholics. In many ways I’m an interesting exception, I came from an agnostic household and was never even baptized in any of the Christian traditions. You are further correct in citing Darwin, or in my case Thomas Paine, as a bigger influence that JKR could ever be on potential new members. Finally, don’t underestimate the effect of rhetoric coming from the Religious Right; every statement they make, in word or deed, tends to convince the rest of us how wrong they and their creed are and vindicating the truth of Nietzsche statement in The Gay Science (Die fröhliche Wissenschaft, 1882) ‘The Christian desire to find the world ugly and bad has made the world ugly and bad’.

  20. As a parent, it’s my responsibility to not only know what my child is reading, but also to interact with him about it. Mike’s statement: “His mom jumped right into the books with him” reveals the importance of being connected with all the external influences our kids face. TV, movies, books…All of these can be great learning experiences, if we are perceptive enough to use them.
    I have not read the HP books (too many other books on my desk!), but the thing that concerns me more than the content of a book is the merchandising attached to it. HP sells everything from cereal to toys to clothing. HP as a witch I can deal with. HP as a pimp I cannot. More kids are seduced by “stuff” than they are by the occult.
    Kat
    BTW I don’t remember Socrates or Plato selling T-shirts.

  21. Kat,
    I haven’t responded to a post here in awhile but I’m moved to comment on this. Dora the Explorer sells t-shirts, Spider-Man sells t-shirts, “WWJD?” sells t-shirts; is there nothing that doesn’t? Lamentable, and a deep concern of mine insofar as it’s HARD as a parent to resist the marketing of every value, product, virtue and vice. But I see less Harry Potter merchandizing in my local grocery/book/toy stores than any of the other examples.
    The HP series is a fine read, in the tradition of fantasists both Christian (‘king’ Tolkien) and otherwise (Ursula Le Guin,Frank Herbert, Octavia Butler, etc.).
    I’m glad to inherit the rich imagination of western literary tradition- pagan, Greek, et.al. If my children are left with the, ahem, LaHaye/Jenkins literary tradition, I will worry about the end times indeed.

  22. SusanF-
    I, too, appreciate much of the western literary tradition and was fascinated by mythology as a child. I also devoured all the sci-fi I could get my hands on. But back in the Dark Ages When I Was A Child (mid-20th century) there was a lot less branding of the stuff. Unless you count lunch boxes and maybe pajamas. Movies and books did not have instant or pre-release spin-off merchandise. Today it is difficult to find children’s clothing, toys or even school supplies that are not tied to a fictional character.
    HP is not the first, nor will he be the last, as you pointed out, but this week I read my grandson’s new LEGO magazine containing this statement:
    “Harry Potter fans all over will be returning to Hogwartsâ„¢ for the next exciting film in the series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenixâ„¢! but LEGO Club members get there first with this exclusive tour of the new LEGO Hogwartsâ„¢ Castle!” The next two pages included the HP collectible figures, castle and playsets. The message was pretty clear: “Be the first to get yours!”
    As long as books (including HP) are used in an age and understanding-appropriate setting, we can all benefit from a wide exposure to creative thinking. And if our beliefs are never challenged, how can we know what we do believe? Pandering to our children’s demands to have everything that seduces the consumer in them, however, impoverishes all of us and probably poses a greater obstacle to their desiring God and to healthy growth as Christians than does Wicca.
    Kat

  23. The HP books might not seem so threatening if their Christian detractors didn’t have such a literal-minded attitude to the arts. I don’t see the books as advocating magic, but rather using magic as a vivid metaphor to explore the wise and unwise use of power. We need to understand the difference between a book *containing* a dubious behavior and *promoting* it. After all, Old Testament characters do all sorts of things that we don’t necessarily take as a role model. It’s just human nature on display. Maybe this connects to the “Bible as magic rule book” attitude that the iMonk has previously skewered. Is this one reason why the anti-HP camp is mostly Protestant – Catholics perhaps having an easier time leaving symbol and mystery to stand for themselves instead of translating everything into moral prescriptions? (I am Episcopalian, FWIW.)

  24. Michael,

    I just wanted to say that if more Christians had your outlook of tolerance, the world would be a much better place. One of the things that has always felt right to me about Wicca is the understanding that all beliefs are valid. You will never see a witch at your front door wanting to talk to you about the Goddess :)and trying to chance your truths. I believe that tolerance, and tolerance alone will bring this world to a peaceful co-existance. Thank you for being part of the solution.

  25. Straining at a gnat they swallowed the camel. Yes, HP is dangerous. Love saved Harry from evil, teamwork is the way of the good, loners utilizing fear tactics are the mark of the evil side, absolutely no one should let their kids watch that- could put them off being Southern Baptist. I will have read the last of JK Rowlings books as soon as I can get my hands on it.

  26. Michael writes: I talk HP with high school kids all the time. None of them want to be wizards (and I have kids into atheism and the occult every year.) They want to be J.K. Rowling.

    Good for them, I say! We are all made in the image of a Creator God. 😀

  27. Being a Christian youth who enjoys Harry Potter, this is one subject where I think it’s safe to say I know what I’m talking about.

    No one is going to switch relgious doctrine over a piece of literature, especially children’s fiction. Do you have any idea how uncool reading for pleasure is considered to be these days, at even a high school level? It angers me that these Christian parents can condemn literature, and a child’s interest in literature, as they flaunt material items on their children, and shop at Wal-Mart and support making war abroad.

    Yes, there’s evil in the world all right, but it’s not in Hogwarts, it’s in the White House.

  28. Brian Pendell says:

    And in our own houses, too, don’t forget.

    I say this, because I vividly remember hearing campaign commercials on ‘Christian’ radio during the Clinton era along the lines of “the problem is not in your house … the problem is in the white house! Vote for [candidate who is not Bill Clinton]”

    That’s a literal quote, as best I remember it.

    And that was the last time I listened to that station.

    The arrogance of the idea that all we have to do to usher in a new age of peace, prosperity and revival is vote for the correct presidential candidate appalls me. We get the candidates … from both parties … we deserve.

    If evil is in the white house, it’s because 44%+ of the American people put it there.

    The commercial got things backwards. First we start with the logs in our own eyes. Focus on the evil we do first, then concentrate on our corporate evil, THEN holiness in the rest of the country follows. But the idea that we can impose goodness and righteousness from the top down is incredibly silly in a democracy. Thistles don’t grow from thornbushes. Make the tree good, it’ll produce good fruit. But when the tree is rotten, we find ourselves choosing between thistles. The solution is not in voting for thistle A or thistle B … the solution is in fixing the tree, and that starts with fixing ourselves.

    Respectfully,

    Brian P.

  29. Brian Krumnow says:

    One point I would make here (as both a parent and pastor who has read all of the HP books with his children)is that in many ways HP is more “Christian” than LOTR. Tolkien wrote LOTR not as any sort of Christian allegory, but rather as a retelling of Europe’s pagan past. In LOTR (think books, not films), there is no hope. The Hobbitts and everyone else presuppose that their task is doomed from the start. LOTR’s purpose is to illustrate the hopelesness of a pagan Europe. HP, on the other hand, has a conscious theme of hope. There is hope in the power of love. There is hope that evil can and will be defeated.

    I used HP as an example in my sermon to this past spring’s confirmation class, as it was full of HP fans, my eldest son among them. What I pointed out to them is that Harry supposes that his life is a certain way, and then, in the course of one day, that changes completely because he is told the story of who he really is. I told the kids that this was what confirmation was all about: telling them who they really were. That they were not defined by the world, but by Christ. And that they have been saved from death by the love of someone willing to sacrifice themselves for them, as Harry was.

    Blessings to all,

    Brian Krumnow

  30. Aside for the political ranting, I’m glad for Jordan C’s comment above; it also points back to iM’s remark about HP encouraging reading. This is possibly the greatest asset of the whole series. As Lisa Simpson observed, JRK ‘turned a whole generation of kids back on to reading’. We need more readers and (eventually) intellectuals, especially in a group like the SBC.

    I also have to say, after Brian’s comment above–and because you hear this so often–that while, yes, J.R.R. Tolkien did not write an allegory when we wrote LOTR, that is not to say that he didn’t intend for there to be religious meaning to it; quite the opposite is true, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien(ed. Humphrey Carpenter) are a testament to that. He called LOTR a “Catholic work”. It’s simply not an allegory.

  31. Brian Krumnow, I would like to correct your statement concerning Tolkien’s purpose in writing LOTR.

    If LOTR is not an allegory (and thus Tolkien says in the preface) then it is neither a religious allegory nor one about pagan Europe (nor about the rising Nazi Germany as people speculated at the time).

    In the preface to LOTR Tolkien explicitly says that we, as the readers, are free to find in it any significance we like, but we should not ascribe to him, the author, any intent other than to tell a story.

    That is not to deny, of course, that Tolkiens Christian/Catholic worldview affected the way he told stories – it clearly did, and in that sense it is a “Catholic work”.

  32. bookdragon says:

    Wow – the things you miss while on vacation. Brian, this is great. I love the HP series and eagerly await the last book, and await the time when my kids will be old enough to want to read these books too.

    All I don’t understand is how Christians can possibly object to it. My priest did a sermon series on the first few books because JKR put so many elements perfect for Christian theological reflection into HP. We even did a HP theme for vacation bible school a couple summers ago and it was one of the first that really drew in the neighborhood kids who didn’t go to any church. In a more educated age, HP would be read like Pilgrim’s Progress – Harry, saved and protected from evil by his mother’s self-sacrificing love, is called to a destiny fighting that evil but must first grow/mature and become able/willing to also make great sacrifices. It’s nearly a perfect allegory of salvation and sanctification.

    Of course, since I was one of those kids who explored wicca for reason #3 (and I still can’t go to a church strongly against women’s ordination w/o experiencing a fight-or-flight gut response), my own suspicion is that a lot of the anti-HP crowd can’t see this because HP’s mother was the one to save him. I honestly wonder if more Christians would have ‘got it’ if JKR had made it his father’s saving love instead.

  33. Brian Pendell says:

    Dear Bookdragon,

    With respect, I don’t think that’s the issue at all.

    I think that “wizard” and “witch” are, for Christians, words with a high emotional loading. Like the word “ni**er” for African-Americans. It has all these Hollywood connotations, and prompts a strong fear reaction.

    Lemme give an example.

    Imagine I walk up to you and say, I’ll pray for you.

    What is your response? Probably a shrug of the shoulders. You don’t care.

    Now imagine I put on a black robe, walk up to you, silver pentacle gleaming, and say I’m going to cast a spell on you. What is your response now?

    Well, if you’re like a lot of Christians, you panic. You doubly panic if I threaten to do it to your kids.

    We believe more strongly in the power of magic than we do in the power of prayer. And that’s wrong. Prayer is MORE powerful. Even Wiccans will tell you that Christian prayer is as powerful as any spell they cast. That’s why they consider praying Christians magicians. We don’t claim the title, but they see supernatural power moving when we pray. We rightly refuse the title, but to them *any* exercise of supernatural power is “magic”, and they know what they see.

    What’s more than that, We KNOW prayer works. I bet there are any number of people on this site … including the owner … who can testify to the real and awesome power of prayer in their lives.

    How many can make an equally strong testimony about the power of pagan magic? Not as many, I’ll bet. Not nearly as many.

    So why do we ignore or downplay prayer while freaking out about magic? I believe the simple answer is: pure Hollywood. Nothing else. We see magic being powerful and cool on the big screen. We don’t see prayer mentioned at all. But remember: Moses kicked the A** of the Egyptian Magicians, and we have a better covenent!

    You run into a Christian kid who wants to be a magician? Teach him to pray. In the eyes of Wiccans, he’ll be a magician. He will get the same or better results than they do… provided he prays in accordance with God’s will.

    Through prayer, we have access to the One who created the universe. More than that, we are indwelt — possessed? — by that same Spirit. What does a mere magician have compared with that?

    We have a lot more than we think we do, and Wiccans have a lot less than Hollywood gives them credit for. If we can see past the Hollywood to the truth .. and accept the fact that we have far more spiritual power than they … then no one will ever fear a witch. Much.

    Mind: Their supernatural power IS real and does deserve respect. But we shouldn’t be terrified of it, as if we were defenseless. We are not.

    Respectfully,

    Brian P.

  34. Brian,
    “Mind: Their supernatural power IS real and does deserve respect. But we shouldn’t be terrified of it, as if we were defenseless. We are not.”

    Thanks for addressing the extreme ways we tend to look at the subject: Downplay the magic as nothing. Or Fear It.

    My children are aware of the dangers and power of alcoholism, of cars (e.g. crossing a busy street or the collision we were involved in), etc. I do not hide these realities from my children, nor do they go around constantly obsessed with them. In part because (1) in the case of alchoholism, they have seen 1sthand the foolishness of the end result and (2) in the case of cars being dangerous, there are some very practical precautions they know (looking both ways, e.g.) which makes cars less dangerous to them personally.

    With magic or supernatural power used in evil ways, there is also the real and very practical spiritual reality. Wiccan power is not infinite, and as you said so well, We have access to the Creator, and His Spirit lives within us. Wow! Thanks for reminding me of this. I do not want my children to be unaware of dark uses of spiritual power, nor do I want them to obsessively fear it.

    I’m not sure yet how all this carries over for me with regards to Harry Potter. With my little ISFJ mind so rooted in the literal here and now, I tend to avoid all science fiction like the plague. I just can’t stand it personally (maybe that’s heresy on a post with people who love H.P.!) Personally, that’s no big deal. I read voraciously, and if I’m lacking in one genre, well, I’ll just be lacking.

    The struggle I have is guiding my children with principles for reading and understanding literature in this genre, which some of my children do really enjoy. Because I so don’t get it personally, I tend to write it off for no better reason than personal preference. I appreciate that this post and the comments have helped me think through some of the other issues and principles I could not get to because of my own personal (and admittedly shallow) bias.

  35. Oops, the more I think about it, I’m guessing I erred in calling Harry Potter “science fiction”. Is it fantasy? Or part of some other genre?

  36. Brian Pendell says:

    Dear Eclexia,

    I do NOT believe you err in calling HP “Science fiction”.

    Both fantasy and SF are part of the larger family of speculative fiction, and as such are often interchangeable.

    For example! HP gets his power from magic. Suppose we changed the origin of the story so that instead he’s a mutant with certain inborn powers in a school with other mutants.

    Congratulations. It’s no longer HP — it’s now Marvel’s X-men, with Xavier’s academy for mutants.

    Or suppose we say that he gets his power from enhanced mental ability, enhanced by surgery, DNA alteration, and technological devices. Now it’s an SF story.

    Any SF story can be turned into a fantasy story with a few strokes of the pen. An energy rifle becomes a wand of fireballs. The jump drive becomes the teleportation spell. The wizard becomes the mad scientist.

    Likewise, any fantasy story can be changed into an SF story.

    And some stories are not clearcut fantasy or SF. Example: Look at George Lucas. He has lasers and spaceships, but a) there is no scientific reality behind these devices and B) he has dark lords and swords, and people born with special powers and mystical sages.

    Thus, I think it fair to describe “Star Wars” not as SF but as a fantasy set in space.

    All the really good SF writers (Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov) are or were ALSO really good fantasy writers. Likewise, really good fantasy authors (C.S. Lewis, Norton, Diane Duane,
    Terry Pratchett, whoever wrote ‘A Wrinkle In Time’) write really good SF.

    Why? Because a real speculative fiction story is about human beings. Get the human characters right, the “fantastic worlds” aspect fades into the background. Notice that lots of people are more interested in Harry and Hermione or whether so-and-so will betray so-and-so, or Dumbledore’s Heroic death, and few people care about the “magic” as such. That’s the mark of good speculative fiction. The characters … the human story, the myth … come to the fore. The technology … or magic, or whatever else it is that makes this world different from “real life” … becomes less important, fading into background.

    So .. yes. HP, if it isn’t SF as such, is it’s first cousin.

    Respectfully,

    Brian P.

  37. bookdragon says:

    Thanks Brian,

    I dunno. I’d be far more moved by someone offering to pray for me than at all worried about someone in a wizard get-up threatening to curse me. Of course, I’ve had the benefit of hearing as a kid all the Celtic Christian saint stories where various magicians and druids can’t do squat against Patrick, Bridgit, et al. and the Torah alone is full of stories showing the power of magicians is nothing God can’t control. The story of Balaam setting out to curse, but instead having to bless, the Israelites just rolled around again last week: no one can curse what God has decided to bless.

    I suppose I am out of touch with the segment of Christianity that freaks about magic. I know medieval Christians and Salem Puritans were pretty spooked by the idea of witches (well before Hollywood), but I had thought we had grown out of that as a faith. Are large segments of Christianity still as superstitious and spooked by curses as medieval peasants?

  38. Brian Pendell says:

    “Are large segments of Christianity still as superstitious and spooked by curses as medieval peasants? ”

    Yep. You might look at Jack Chick’s treatment of witchcraft, for example. The kind of Christianity he speaks for is no small thing, especially in the South.

    Respectfully,

    Brian P.

  39. Hello Salem? Hang Harry Potter? What does this fear (isnt that from the “Devil”?) say about faith when a group , a book or some outside influence is blamed? If a child is raised with strong morals, and their religous beliefs are embraced by a loving and participating family, and the child is not made to fear exploring outside those beliefs, then they will embrace those beliefs regardless of the books and movies they see.

    I totally disagree with 1)2)3) and 4) of your arguments. Wicca (true Wicca) holds many who have never been abused, never were Christian, and never suffered at all. I could write a long essay here but instead I will suggest that perhaps you are talking to “online Wiccans” , rather than persons in a Coven in real life.

    If you dig deep you will find many Christian Traditions stem from Pagan traditions, and while all Pagans are not Wiccan, all Wiccans are Pagan…..

    Wicca is only about 60 years old.

  40. Brian Pendell says:

    How interesting,

    Thank you, Edie. Always interested in feedback.

    Question.

    I am assuming you are currently a Wiccan. If this is not a true assumption, I beg your forgiveness.

    But if this is a true assumption … were you once a Christian? If so, why did you switch over? Assuming it was not reasons 1-4, what were they ? I spoke according to my own observations, but I’m always on the lookout for more data.

    Respectfully,

    Brian P.

  41. Edie: I beg to differ – but only because I think semantics are getting in the way. The vast majority of people in the US and UK have been raised as Christians. Regardless of what religion they’ve turned to (be it Wicca, Eclectic Paganism, Asatru, etc – or even Atheism), most of them have had a negative experience with Christianity which is *why* they changed Faiths. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

    The “wrongs” may not have involved other people, and they may not have even involved reality in the true sense – it’s simply their perceptions that led them down that road. A person may leave a religion because they felt that their God(s) abandoned them in a time of need. They may have left because they were physically abused by a parent, teacher, friend, pastor, etc who was involved with the church.

    Logic dictates that since the Abrahamic Faiths have the most believers, that most people will be raised in those Faiths. With the exception of Atheism, there aren’t very many non-Pagan religions that a person can turn to 😉

    How can I say this? As the Owner of the Pagan Forums (http://www.paganforum.com) I meet my share of Pagans, Wiccans, Heathens, and “other”. On *and* offline…and these are people with real lives who live in the real world. Take it for what it’s worth – most Pagans had a bad experience with Christianity…which is why they left Christianity in the first place.

  42. Nicholas Anton,

    I cannot allow that amount of quoted material. Sorry. You can link it and I will allow it.

    thanks

  43. Thank you for this helpful insight!

  44. I am a practicing pagan, and I can only find one thing of any importance to point out in your (amazingly written) letter. Many Wiccans and pagans I have met have no history of abuse. Most of the pagans I have met converted because of the latter three reasons in your list- most notably, dogma. I converted for the same reason. I have always wanted to know why, and what kind of evidence there was to back up the theory- but when I asked I was told (not in these words, exactly, but something similar) to believe in God, that He is the way, the truth, and the light.

    Another thing- the Bible doesn’t explain mammoths, dinosaurs, etc. How could something that important be left out of the Bible? If someone was there to record the earth’s creation (firsthand, secondhand, Christians accept the information, so I don’t think they think it’s all a lie) then why is there no mention of great beasts with scaly skin, teeth six inches long an tusks bigger then any seen before?

    I’m not challenging your beliefs or those of anyone else- the above is what I think. You can think whatever you want to, and I suppose we’ll find out what’s really ‘right’ when we die.