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Thoughts on “Magical Hedges” and the Paradigm of Potter Objectors

The debate about Harry Potter, and its depiction of magic and sorcery, is a prime example of a philosophical divide among Christians. How much, if any, occult symbols, practices and references, should Christians tolerate in their tales? Especially as those elements are attached to protagonists?

Yesterday’s post How Harry Potter Made Me a Believer produced some great discussion. I particularly enjoyed the thread started by Jesse Koepke wherein he expressed concern that we have allowed a good story to overwhelm biblical injunctions against witchcraft and the like. Jesse proceeded to make some lucid observations about “magical distinctions” in Narnia / Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.

There’s a lot of great (and not so great) articles / discussions about this  subject (like Stephen Greydenas’ Magic, Middle-earth, Merlin, Muggles, and Meaning). So I don’t really want to go there. And I don’t need to. As much as I agree we mustn’t take magic and its portrayal lightly, my first reaction to Potter opponents and their ilk is to question their template.

Christian opposition to Harry Potter is reflective of a larger, more detrimental mindset which affects our view of God, Christianity, art, and culture. Hopefully I can elaborate on that statement enough to avoid misunderstanding and eliminate the concern that I may be somehow justifying tolerance and/or acceptance of occultism. But I’ll warn you ahead of time, this post is a bit long and a little scattered.

Like some of the commenters on yesterday’s post, I have come from an fairly active occult background. Not only did I frequent a warlock’s house in high school, I owned occult paraphernalia, and eventually began taking hallucinogens for “religious” purposes. So I totally respect the sensitivity Christians, especially Christian parents, bring to this discussion, and for the most part believe it is warranted.

Those who make a distinction between what Greydanus calls “magical hedges” (which “serve to divide the magic of fantasy from the [real] magic of curses and occult powers”) in Narnia / Lord of the Rings versus Harry Potter walk a very fine line. I’m not suggesting distinctions can’t be made, as Jesse did well in his comments, but that the defense a.) Can turn into an exercise in hair-splitting and b.) Is NOT shared by most Potter opponents. Which is why many of those same folks also denounce Lord of the Rings and Narnia.

On a.): Those who try to define the proper use of magic in Christian fantasy are forced to create their own literary / religious cipher. They inevitably construct sets and subsets of laws to govern their own discernment regarding what is acceptable or unacceptable magic.  Some of the following may be found on that list:

  • Magic is tolerable as long as it’s done in a “fictional” world (as opposed the real world).
  • Magic is tolerable as long as the source is defined as God.
  • Magic is tolerable as long as the source is defined as NOT being God.
  • Magic is tolerable as long as i’s source is clearly delineated as Good or Evil.
  • Magic is tolerable as long as it is used for Good.
  • Magic is tolerable as long as it’s performed by non-human characters (i.e., elves, wizards, etc.)

And the list goes on. Problem is, even the defense of magic in fantasy can take on the tone of nit-picking. Maybe it should. Maybe that’s what separates discerning Christian readers from the general public. I don’t know. We just seem to be falling into a potential trap when we start niggling over whether THIS wizard, in THAT setting, on THAT world, could perform THAT action, with THOSE results, if he was really empowered by God. It’s pure tedium if you ask me.

On b.): Those who defend the magic of Narnia / LotR and NOT the magic of Harry Potter are in the minority. In other words, those who disapprove of Harry Potter most likely disapprove of Narnia and LotR on similar grounds. They are driving the debate more than the Potter apologists. “Let anyone who wields a wand be accursed!” In their scheme, even the Christian who defends Gandalf’s magic is an emissary of Evil. All that to say, the person who approves “Narnian magic” while questioning “Potter magic” walks a fine line and may in fact find opponents on both sides of the aisle.

As I said in my intro, I believe this controversy illustrates a philosophical divide among believers, one that frames our perspectives on (1) Christian holiness and (2) Fiction. Not only do we get caught up in arguing a “touch not, taste not” paradigm (only in this case, spell books, wizards, and crystal balls replace Sabbaths, dietary laws, and meat sacrificed to idols) we impose that template over storytelling. Thus, when holiness becomes a system of thou-shalt-nots, so does our fictional diet.

In the process, I think we risk bigger issues, we strain at gnats and swallow camels. We miss opportunities to engage the culture because we’re too busy quibbling with particulars. Like what constitutes “bad magic” in fiction.

After King Saul disobeyed God, the prophet Samuel rebuffed him with this admonition:

“For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. “ (I Sam. 15:23 KJV)

The letter of the law demanded that witches be stoned. Saul didn’t have a cauldron or a magic wand, but his “rebellion” was just as repulsive to the Lord. It foreshadowed what Christ would reveal — that the heart is the issue. Lust is akin to adultery. Hatred is analogous to murder. And rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft. This isn’t to downplay witchcraft, but to suggest that the issue is much bigger than magic  — especially as it relates to storytelling! — it’s about one’s heart.

So why do Christians always get hung up talking about “externals”?

Jesus made the entire Law a heart issue.  And when we get caught up in debating things like whether one type of wizard is more tolerable than another type of wizard, we’re really off course. Nevertheless, that’s the kind of debate this often turns into. Of course, we need to warn and guard against occultism. But when the Christian opposition to “magic in fiction” is driven by a narrow, draconian view of holiness, I can’t help but feel we’re completely missing the boat.

Okay. There’s a few rather disconnected thoughts. I’d be interested in yours.

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{ 41 comments… add one }
  • Julian Walker July 19, 2011, 2:02 PM

    Hello, Mike. I don’t comment here often but I find this interesting especially after I just saw Deathly Hallows Part 2 in theaters on Friday evening of last week. John Granger’s “Looking for God in Harry Potter” became my source of defense against Anti-Potter people, (it should be noted that these people also defended Narnia and LOTR with passion). But as of right now, I am not sure where I stand…your post has me wandering if all the fictional entertainment I enjoy with elements of magic in them should be thrown away (HP, Narnia, LOTR, Game of Thrones, FullMetal Alchemist, various other anime series).

    • Mike Duran July 19, 2011, 3:42 PM

      Julian, I’m definitely NOT suggesting that you throw away all fictional entertainment with fantasy elements. That would equivalent to what some of the Potter opponents endorse, just be another blanket rule that doesn’t take other deeper issues into consideration. In fact, I’m saying just the opposite. We must train ourselves to exercise discernment and concede to live in tension. When it comes to art, there’s no black-and-white law that specifically outlines what’s biblically acceptable and what’s not. If it’s something that stumbles or offends you personally, then obey your conscience. But I would suggest just trashing everything is the worst thing you can do. In the end, you might. But first I would encourage you to take some time, research, and listen to different sides of the argument. You may also want to follow the link in this article to Stephen Greydanus’ essay. Thanks for commenting!

      • MGalloway July 19, 2011, 4:28 PM

        Mike Duran wrote: “We must train ourselves to exercise discernment and concede to live in tension.”

        Perhaps. But the Bible does actually speak of a gift of discernment, too, as well as the process of sanctification. With sanctification, it’s quite possible that God would lead a person away from such things altogether.

        • Katherine Coble July 19, 2011, 5:55 PM

          Or it is equally possible that with the gift of sanctification God would imbue some Christians with the ability to approach things without harming themselves to enable those folk to reach others.

          Sanctification is about living in a sense of purity, not under a bushel.

          • Patrick Todoroff July 19, 2011, 6:50 PM

            Which I daresay is what He meant when he spoke of handling snakes and drinking poison.

            “It’s not what goes into a man that makes him unclean…”

  • Julian Walker July 19, 2011, 2:04 PM

    Just out of curiosity, Mike how do you feel about the Lord of the Rings series? I believe you might have mentioned the films in one of your previous posts?

  • E. Stephen Burnett July 19, 2011, 2:11 PM

    Mike, great breakdown of the “fiction magic” systems some Christians attempt. But in practice, they’re all a bunch of nonsense.

    Here’s why. Scripture forbids actual pagan practice of actual pagan witchcraft. So long as people actually take seriously the notions that these requirements for holy living have anything to do with imaginary elements like wands, robes, flying brooms, and bubbling cauldrons, the Devil laughs (if he’s even behind the conflation of fictitious magic with the occult anyway).

    Otherwise well-meaning Christians are just yielding to the Devil more power — which the Devil might like to have, and tries to bluff his way into “gaining” by virtue of attribution by Christians.

    Moreover, such Christians are trying to fight even supposed sin with actual practices resembling divination attempts and actual pagan practice, as if sin is primarily a Thing that one can get rid of, rather than a spiritual death that comes from the human heart (Mark 7).

    • Mike Duran July 19, 2011, 3:47 PM

      Stephen, I remember a pastor telling a story about why he kept a little statue of the devil on his shelf — cape, horns, pitchfork, etc. Inevitably, people would be shocked. “How can you have a statue of the devil in your office?” they would cry. To which he responded, “If you think that’s what the devil looks like, he’s already fooled you.”

      Stephen, I appreciate all your interest in and important contributions to the discussion of this subject.

      • David James July 19, 2011, 11:35 PM

        Wow. I’m going to have to use that story some time, Mike. I like that. “he’s already fooled you.” Quite clever. 😉

  • Renee G July 19, 2011, 2:44 PM

    Fabulous topic!!
    As a side note…I think that Christians who get all up in arms about ‘Magic’ in fantasy media like LOTR or Narnia, are the same type of Christians that that refuse to see the use of metaphors in the story… as well as in the readings of the Bible, and sadly.. I believe that such people will never learn to take something apart, and draw meaning from it OTHER than what is plainly written/stated.
    I believe that in all cases such as this… be it a boy with a wand, a talking Lion, or an old man with a staff and a midget with a magical ring… it’s up to Christian PARENTS to teach their children the difference between fantasy and the real world.

    Do these same anti-Potter people let their children read Goosebumps books? I know I read every single one of them when I was in elementary school. Do they let them watch the Simpsons?
    The Smurfs? Yo Gabba Gabba? The Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles?

    Let us not be hypocrites…
    I knew the difference between Broom Hilda from Looney Tunes and a Wiccan when I was in middle school…
    The same as how I knew it was O.K. to shoot ducks with the plastic gun on the Nintendo system but that REAL guns were dangerous and I should never touch them.
    Teach your children about fantasy vs. reality as early as they can understand it….stop blaming secular media for the bad judgments of misled children.

    (this post is not directed at anyone in particular… I just got on a soap box… sorry for the ‘you’s and ‘your’s) <3

    • Patrick Todoroff July 19, 2011, 3:38 PM

      Seems to me the Cadaverously Pious object to all forms to imagination. And passion.
      And levity.

  • Rebecca LuElla Miller July 19, 2011, 3:01 PM

    Julian, it seems to me that this discussion might be getting more convoluted than necessary. There is pretend and there is real. The “magic” in Harry Potter is pretend. We can know that by using discernment. XPaul kindly gave us the definition in the last post, the third meaning being the one that applies. My dictionary starts out with “the ability to judge well.” For the Christian, that judgment comes from measuring what we’re looking at against Scripture.

    If you’d like to look at HP in more depth I recommend the series my friend Stephen Burnett is doing over at Spec Faith.


    • Renee G July 19, 2011, 3:07 PM

      ^^ That’s what I meant! =D

  • Patrick Todoroff July 19, 2011, 3:24 PM

    I think the problem is we blur the line between ART and LIFE, trying to enforce inapplicable boundaries and/or engage in unrealistic practices.

    That individuals get persuaded to an occult worldview by stories that inaccurately portray magical or spiritual powers shows how lost and ungrounded in reality they are. I even heard tale of folks in genuine, severe depression at Avatar’s Pandora being unattainable. (http://articles.cnn.com/2010-01-11/entertainment/avatar.movie.blues_1_pandora-depressed-posts?_s=PM:SHOWBIZ)
    These folks are so disillusioned with the real world they’re pining for a CGI alternative.

    That other individuals take offense at clearly fictional representations of imaginary events betrays a grim lack of balance and unhealthy perspective. Seems an equal and opposite error. Akin to demanding an NFL game play like Ping Pong.

    The job of an artist is to employ imagery, symbols, poetry to invoke emotion, stimulate thinking, and convey a message. The job of a minister is to accurately declare the truth of God and His Word and demonstrate definite grace. There’s overlap, but those are two distinct vocations.

    Now perhaps if preachers would inject more passion, creativity, poetry, and thought into delivering the Gospel, people wouldn’t play World of Warcraft 80+ hours a week. Or be consumed by some make-believe guy with a wand.

  • Jenna St. Hilaire July 19, 2011, 6:03 PM

    Hurrah! You’re talking about Harry Potter! I still get in trouble with Christian friends for talking and blogging about the series, recommending it warmly, creating wizard rock music, and defending the books as Christian rather than pagan. Oh, and writing for The Hog’s Head, an HP-themed site where over half the Blogengamot is composed of Christians. 🙂

    One of the problems I run into is that everybody can point to someone they know or have heard about and say, “See, that kid got into Harry Potter and the next thing you know, he’s in full rebellion against his parents/clinically depressed/facing an exorcism/etc.” To which I respond that Harry Potter kept me a Christian, brought me out of depression, and changed my life. It did not do so single-handedly, of course, but the story helped.

    Not that that convinces everyone, but it always convinces me. 🙂

    I wholeheartedly agree that if you rule out Harry Potter on the grounds of witchcraft, you have to rule out LotR and possibly Narnia, too. Greydanus’ essay is very thoughtful, but I disagree with him that Rowling did not use ‘hedges’; she made her magic a genetic inheritance and set it up in some ways as a spoof on the magic in fairy tales. Or, as I’ve sometimes said, Harry Potter is to religious witchcraft as Tim Allen’s Galaxy Quest is to space travel. It’s a parody of a fantasy that has a very loose basis in reality.

    The alchemy is a different issue, but most Christians (nay, most people) don’t realize that alchemy was practiced inside Christianity in the Middle Ages (Martin Luther approved of it, and Thomas Aquinas is said to have practiced it himself). Naturally, it had little to do with the un-subjugated reconstructionist version that is currently part of some New Age practices. John Granger’s books are my authority, here, for anyone who wants further details. Unlocking Harry Potter and How Harry Cast His Spell are great places to start.

    Whew, got a little longwinded there… I’m not always the gentlest defender of the books, so let me clarify that I respect those whose convictions will not let them read or recommend the books. I do think it’s a wrong, even a dangerous conviction, though, one that divorces Christian life from art and its deepest powers.

    • Jenna St. Hilaire July 19, 2011, 10:21 PM

      Perhaps I should clarify that final statement, especially in light of Jesse’s thoughtful post below. I cannot judge anyone’s conscience, and wouldn’t encourage anyone to read a book they thought would lead them into sin.

      The conviction I’m concerned with is the idea that because Harry Potter–or any other story–uses words like wizard, witch, and magic, it is innately set up to lead children in the direction of hell. We might as well rid the world of Western fairy tales as Harry Potter, on that count. The Brothers Grimm and the Wizard of Oz, Gandalf and Coriakin, and most definitely this:

      “Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spells that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years.”
      –C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”

      It probably would have been kinder of me to link up Professor Granger’s books, too. For anyone who is interested:

      Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader
      How Harry Cast His Spell

  • Jesse Koepke July 19, 2011, 9:24 PM

    Thank you for your excellent post, Mike. This discussion is really making me think about how Rowling uses magic in Harry Potter, and I’ve been thinking, “What would my conclusion be if she didn’t use words like witches or wizards or spells or wands?” I have an instant condemning reaction to those words because of my upbringing, but if I remove the typical magical nomenclature and only look at the power itself and how it’s used, I’m left wondering how it’s any different from Star Wars, which I grew up watching with my parents. That power I’m able to wink at and say, “Yeah, it’s off biblically, but I know it’s not true, so just look past it.”

    Basically this whole discussion is making me see my hypocrisy 🙂 And your statement, “Thus, when holiness becomes a system of thou-shalt-nots, so does our fictional diet” really strikes home. Yes, the Christian life is about right and wrong according to God’s laws, but at some point… it’s kind of not about right and wrong. It’s about a relationship with Jesus and walking in unity with his heart. As you said, “Jesus made the entire Law a heart issue”, and that’s what I need to look at.

    I do still believe there is a point where magic in fantasy goes too far. And I definitely would not write a story like Rowling’s, because I don’t believe the way she represents super-natural power is helpful or correct. Spells are not analogous to prayers, because God does not answer our every beck and call. He doesn’t respond if we say the right words in Latin and twist our Bibles in the right motion, and I think using power that way in a story gives a wrong paradigm for how we should relate with God.

    You told Julian, “If it’s something that stumbles or offends you personally, then obey your conscience.” That’s why I decided not to read Potter, because for me it created an unhealthy fascination with the world of the story that kept me from walking closely with Jesus. I’d love to finish the series some day, because Rowling is an amazing storyteller, but until that fascination goes away the Potter books are off my reading list. And I would encourage any author writing fantasy with super-natural powers in it to prayerfully consider how they present the power and the characters’ interactions with it and ask whether or not it accurately represents our relationship with the One with real super-natural power.

    • Jill July 20, 2011, 1:07 PM

      Response to your 1st para: The author used the archetypal symbols of magic for a purpose. Pretending she didn’t is dishonest, but so is the assumption that she did this for evil intentions.

      • Jesse Koepke July 20, 2011, 2:08 PM

        True, Rowling certainly used them for a purpose. I wasn’t trying to insinuate that she didn’t. The point I was trying to get at was asking myself what would my reaction be if, hypothetically, she had used different words? I’m asking myself if my reaction is just to surface level words or to something deeper.

        You’re also right that I can’t assume that Rowling used those names for evil intentions. At the same time, I don’t know her personally so I also can’t assume she used them for good intentions. Thus, I’m left with my understanding of what those symbols mean, because as you said, symbols DO mean something.

  • Julian Walker July 20, 2011, 11:31 AM

    The gift of discernment is useful in discussion like this. Discernment is needed for all entertainment, including Harry Potter. I had to tone down my Potter craze at some point as a teenager because I was putting my time and efforts in Harry and not God. Now that I’ve seen that mistake, I’ve gone back to watch the movies, knowing the God and I are on the same page.

    One of the more looked over aspects of the Harry Potter series is not the magic, but the idolatry. No, Harry and his friends don’t bow down before golden statues. However, when thousands of Harry-hunger fans are camping outside or lining up in droves for the next book or film, then that makes me wonder are then brother and sisters in Christ who are putting their Harry Potter fix before God as I was? I know I couldn’t have been the only one to do that.

    I am guessing that discernment should also be applied to TV, graphics novels, and film as well. In the midst of reading Lone Wolf and Cub, I kinda felt the urge to stop reading it. It wasn’t the violence, nor the nudity (which I did not find stimulating) but it was again idolatry. Like Jess would like to finish Harry Potter some day, I would like to finish reading that series, completely. But until I can do away with my idolatry this series is on hold for me.

  • Julian Walker July 20, 2011, 11:32 AM

    I know I’m commenting at least a day after the discussion, do people still respond at this time??

    • Mike Duran July 20, 2011, 12:06 PM

      I’m listening, Julian. As I said, you need to follow the course you feel God’s laid out for you. People make all kinds of good things into idols. Just because something is idolized doesn’t make it evil. It shows how wayward and empty our hearts are. This isn’t said to justify Harry Potter, but to suggest you can’t necessarily judge its contents by its (fanatical) adherents. Anyway, I appreciate the dialog and for visiting my website. Blessings!

  • R. L. Copple July 20, 2011, 11:58 AM

    In my article on this topic, http://blog.rlcopple.com/?p=77 , I come down that God is the source of all, and the evil is in how it is abused for our own purposes, believing we control it, and/or we have that power as our possession. This is the primary difference between what the magicians in the OT did and what the prophets did, and I give Biblical examples of that.

    So to me, it is all about understanding the true source, either in this world or the fictional one, and if so, you play by His rules, not by your own belief you can control it. The “name it, claim it” teaching is not much different from what a witch does. It is still the belief we can control a power merely by the words we speak or the actions we do and God or whatever power the person believes in has no choice but to do it.

    • David James July 20, 2011, 12:50 PM

      R.L., I understand the frustration you showed there at the end of your comment over a lot of the “name it, claim it” and “blab it, grab it” philosophy, but I do not think the comparison to what a witch does is an accurate comparison.

      I grew up with that teaching and listened in person, on audio and video, and read books by a lot of the “big names” as it were. I also encountered a lot of small time operators out there. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the confused. 😉

      I have found that when proper application of the teachings of the Bible and the work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life that the teaching is a true teaching to be found even if the nicknames it’s been given sound kooky.

      In general, if you “name it” and “claim it” but you don’t wind up being able to “grab” what you “blabbed” then one of two things are in existence – either this is not God’s timing for you, or you are not to have that which you are attempting to get, no matter what it is.

      Of course, that’s assuming that the one did it with full faith truly believing it would occur. I have seen people (and experienced it in my own life too) where they thought they were believing, but it was only for the moment they prayed, the faith never was truly there. They just had a “I’ll try this” mentality and therefore failed. Remember Yoda? “Do, or do not. There is no try.” I know the times I’ve “tried” to believe and the times I’ve really believed. The results were quite different. I’ve learned that if I cannot believe, then I don’t pray for something to happen.

      A good way to look at things in regard to this teaching is salvation. God wants all to be saved. He loved the world so much in this regard that He sacrificed His own Son in order to accomplish this, but people still need to “name it” and “claim it” for their own and once they “blab it” they can “grab it”. But it has to be done with full faith and confidence truly trusting that God is going to do what He said. He honors our Faith.

      I’m not saying this to promote any “prosperity gospel” (which has it’s own merits too once you get past all the people that have brought confusion to it), nor to defend any particular teachers of this or even to defend the errors out there, but to be sure that the correct teaching of naming something when you pray to God does not truly mean that God has “no choice” but to do it just because of us naming it. He has to be in agreement with us and/or have lead us toward what we are praying for in order for Him to have “no choice” only because He honors His own Word above His own Name. If He says He will do it, then you can “take it to the bank” as it were that He will do it. If He hasn’t said He will do it, then when we pray to Him for something we need to trust that the correct answer will occur. 😉

      So if you can see what I’m saying there, the correct way of doing this from a Biblical foundation and through the work of the Holy Spirit can in no way be compared to what a witch does as you said in your comment. Completely different altogether. 🙂

      • R. L. Copple July 20, 2011, 1:46 PM

        Not to derail Mike’s thread here, but I understand there are some in that movement who are more “balanced” shall we say, and don’t assume just because they used the right “formula” that God has to respond. But I’ve heard it preached that way by some of the big names, and the only reason a person doesn’t get what they want, whether that be a healing or a new car, is because they didn’t have enough faith.

        When I pastored my first church, it was after the death of the former pastor. It had been a decent size of about fifty people in the backwoods of the Missouri Ozarks. The pastor came down with cancer. He preached that God would heal him. Everyone in the church prayed for it and believed God would heal him. But he died. When I came in, there were four people there aside from my family. One man I talked with had thrown Christianity away because God didn’t heal the pastor. And the district gave me two years to turn it around. Riiiight. And this wasn’t a “name it, claim it” type group. They had a lot of “faith” and God failed them, from their perspective. Problem is, few really know what faith is.

        And that’s why so many get defensive about Harry Potter or whatever, because they miss the faith in looking at the labels. But for the idea I’ve heard preached, the difference between the “radical” name it, claim it, and a witch casting a spell, or small. Not large, if the idea is you can control God through your faith.

        • David James July 20, 2011, 3:28 PM

          I hear you. I just happen to know that some of these ministers can say things that have deeper meaning from teachings upon teachings and to the “uninitiated” it can sound a lot like one is forcing God or other stuff, but it really isn’t. The unfortunate thing is when a minister sees the truth of it, but thinks that they can preach it on the deeper level that the other ministers might and without a good solid foundation on how they arrived to those statements, as a result these “copycat” ministers do much more harm than they do good. Also, remember that these men and women that actually did put their due diligence in with the teaching are just like the rest of us and can say things meaning one thing that come across differently to others (the rest of us). This is my last post on the matter here as I too don’t want to have this go on in a derailing of Mike’s thread. I think we’re Friends on Facebook. Feel free to Message me if you think you might have more to share. I’d be interested in hearing more about that church you had to take over and how things turned out finally there.

  • Jill July 20, 2011, 1:31 PM

    I find this topic to be tedious. Reformer types irritate and bore me, but they are an important part of the Christian body. They are the ones who cry out against evil and corruption. If they sometimes get it wrong, forgive them and move on. They don’t necessarily make Christians look bad–or you, personally, look bad. They are tempered by people like you. For all that artists are so self-important in believing they have a divine purpose of speaking truth by pushing past boundaries, they are conversely tempered by annoying reformers.

    And I’m frankly sick of the dishonesty on the pro-HP side. Raise your hand if you believe that authors don’t use symbols to mean things and resonate with their audience. If you acknowledge that symbols bear meaning, then the next step is to analyze why the author is using them. Broomsticks and cauldrons mean something in our culture, so stop trying to say they’re silly and meaningless and don’t represent pagan witchcraft. To our society, they do. And the author used them purposefully to represent a form of witchcraft. Her reasons for doing so may be completely pure, honest, and Christian. But the symbols DO mean something.

    p.s. I’m responding to general comments as well as the article.

    p.p.s. Mike, it seems we’ve had similar experiences in our youth–hanging out w/ witches, practicing pagan ceremonies, taking hallucinogens, etc. The part that I couldn’t get past in HP was the corresponding w/ the dead. In my experience, this is always demonic. And maybe I’m not ready to go there yet. Maybe you are. Fine.

  • Greg Mitchell July 20, 2011, 2:40 PM

    Well, I don’t have a beef with the “magic” in HP. For goodness’ sake, the “spells” read like Americans-faking-Spanish. It might as well be “Here-O, Wand-O” or “Light-O that Candle-O” or A-La-Ka-Boo”. I mean, it’s just gibberish. If Rowling were putting legitimate magic/Wiccan/whatever things in there, that’d be one thing, but it’s just whimsical garbly goop.

    To me, I think the GREATER discernment is needed in regards to Harry’s attitude. Now, don’t get me wrong, I thouroughly enjoyed the series, but come on. This kid’s the poster child for doing the exact opposite of what the grown ups tell you to do, and then getting rewarded by those same grown-ups for disobeying them!! I mean, sheesh. Yeah, the book’s got bravery and friendship and yada yada, but it’s also about kids constantly doing the “wrong” thing, that ends up being “right”. I think if you’re looking for danger in the series, you’re far better off chasing *that* dragon than any sort of Wiccan agenda. In fact, it’s because of that that I don’t want my kids reading it until they’re old enough to know better, because I think that’s the greater evil in the book.

    Could HP be used as a gateway into REAL witchcraft? Sure. Does it require discernment? Sure–but I don’t think it requires some special spiritual gift of discernment. Just enough discernment to know that this is fake. It’s fiction. I’m a huge Star Wars buff, but it bothers me to see real people claiming “Jedi” as their religion. It’s FAKE, folks. Fake. And as much as people want to shout the praises of Tolkien for having a Christian heart in his writings, there’s nothing decidedly “Christian” about the magic or the mythology in LOTR–other than that there’s one God. A person with a loose grip on reality or looking for *something* to believe in could STILL end up in some weird paganism place by reading LOTR, no matter how Christian its author was.

    However, to those people who are really bothered by these things–be it because of real-life experiences with the occult, etc–then I don’t fault them for wanting to stay away from it. Or, in fact, for wanting to warn others to stay away from it. We need that balance. I stayed away from Harry Potter for a long, long time because everyone told me, in essence, “If you read it a demon will jump into your mind!!”. Perhaps in some strange way, when I DID actually start reading them, I did so very carefully, constantly assessing what was meant to be Wiccan propaganda (didn’t see a lick of that in there, by the way) and what was just goofy fantasy. After a time, I saw only goofy fantasy and my trepidations began to dissolve.

    • Greg Mitchell July 20, 2011, 3:07 PM

      Also, just to be clear, I realize now that most of my previous post is aimed as an “argument” against *adults*. Seeing as how HP is primarily targeted at children, I think even more discernment is needed–and perhaps “abstinence” altogether until a certain age or maturity level is reached.

      Being a monster-fan, I’ve got werewolves and vampires and whatnot strewn about the house. AND I have two daughters under the age of 6. I am very, very, very aware that these images and concepts could be misleading to a child who I’m also raising on the Bible, so my wife and I are constantly reminding and teaching our children the difference between fantasy and reality. So far, my girls have shown no interest in Harry Potter whatsoever, but, yes, I’m adamantly against throwing my 5 year old into a room and letting her watch the movies unsupervised. Because there *are* concepts/words like “spells” and “magic” and “witches” thrown about and my kid’s not going to automatically know the difference between real witches and fake ones. I’ve got to be discerning for her.

      Does that mean Rowling should never write about such things? No. Does that mean some people aren’t ready for that? Yes. Again, discernment.

      But, should the day come that Harry Potter enters my daughter’s radar (and, realistically, with the movies over and his popularity eventually waning, it probably *won’t*–at least not in the way it would have a few years ago) I want to be super careful and be there by my kid’s side, explaining what the Bible says about *real* witchcraft and why we don’t go near that stuff.

  • Katherine Coble July 20, 2011, 2:48 PM

    At the risk of being voted off the island, being accused of syncretism and other sorts of things I should own up to something.

    I don’t think Pagan symbols in and of themselves are bad.

    I’m a firm believer in “The Earth is the Lord’s and the Fullness thereof” and the fact that things can be redeemed by changing their focus.

    Prime example: I always wear a Triquetra pendant. It’s a Celtic pendant that to Celtic pagans symbolises the three phases of the Goddess–Mother, maiden, Crone. Thomas Nelson uses it on the spines of all their Bibles to represent Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In my case it was an anniversary present from my husband representing our marriage as the two of us, plus God.

    As someone above me mentioned, Alchemy was a valid and active part of Christianity for centuries, until the Faith/Reason split around the begin of the 19th century that is forever widening since then.

    In pagan lore the Holly represents the Ressurection of the earth during the Summer Solstice. The Holly king and the Oak king are in eternal battle, the Oak King reigns from Yule to June 21 and then switches. But in Christianity Holly has been repurposed to symbolise Christ.

    I prefer to look at most pagan symbols this way:

    Christ and our faith is the true story of God and God’s interaction with man. Paganism is the language of the shadow time, when people kind of understood part of the truth but hadn’t gotten the full illumination. Think how many things in Paganism echo truths of Christianity, how much of Paganism is a poetic language to say things that have full explainations in Christianity.

    I do not say this to glorify paganism in any way. Just to say that I don’t view Pagan symbology as being anti-Christ as much as I sense it as being the shadow of the fullness of Christ.

    I enjoy many pagan symbols the same way I celebrate Jewish festivals in my home. I see Passover as a story completed in Christ, I see much pagan symbolism as a poetic painting of the language of Christ.

    I think a lot of what Rowling did was try to show those things together (paganism and Christianity) as a way to communicate the larger truth.

    Again, I get it if you find Pagan symbols squicky. I just don’t. Not most of them anyway. Not as I have them remade into the story of Christ.

    P.S. Jill, where exactly is there communication with the Dead as you understand it in Potter? In every instance she is very careful to explain that ghosts are not the same as the dead as they haven’t gone on. The only conversation that I can think of which happens with the dead is when Harry talks to Dumbledore in the King’s Cross chapter in Book 7. At that point, though, Harry is also dead.

    In every other instance what happens is described as interactions with those who haven’t “gone on” or with an echo those folks left in the hearts of others.

    • Jill July 20, 2011, 3:28 PM

      Katherine, I agree w/ everything you say in this message–that pagan symbols were shadows of truth. I even see that in the zodiac, and the symbols are so very beautiful! For heaven’s sake, the ages of the constellations go about like this: Gemini (ancient zodiacs called them a man and woman [Adam and Eve], rather than twins), Taurus (bull-worshiping cultures), Aries (time of animal sacrifice), Pisces (time of Christ and bringing people to the gospel and where we’re at now), Aquarius (return of the water-bearer, otherwise known as Christ). This is why I don’t necessarily think pagan symbols are evil, only that we need to be wise when looking at their context and ask ourselves why an author/religion/whatever is using them. But denying that they have any meaning equally annoys me–not that you’ve done this.

      As far as talking to the dead, I can’t give you exact info. I read the first HP book, and it was a long time ago, and there was something about ghosts inhabiting their school dorms. In any case, that’s why I stopped reading. Perhaps I didn’t understand what she meant by ghosts, but it wasn’t worth it to me to drag my soul back into that kind of place. I experienced trauma when my friends and I contacted spirits, and I have an emotional response to ghosts that others might not have. And I don’t consider that we were talking to the dead, either, but to living demons.

      You are the expert on HP, however, so I bow out on this one. Now that I’m older and more mature, I might take another go at the books to see if they still bother me–not that I think I should have to in order to expand my mind–because they’re neither here nor there. I have about twenty-five books stacked by my bed as it is. My point–there are many other books to read, and I don’t think understanding HP is my particular witness to the world.

      • Katherine Coble July 20, 2011, 3:34 PM

        Honestly, were I you, I’d just stay away from the books. Not that I think they’re bad. I just think if you heard alarm bells, run from the fire.

        (I wasn’t trying to be accusatory when asking you about the talking w/ the dead thing. I was just curious and wondered if I’d missed something in my fervour. As for your belief about living demons being the spirits people communicate with, I would tend to agree. I’m not one to believe in “shades” outside of fiction.)

  • Bob Avey July 20, 2011, 4:33 PM

    Wow, Mike. Yeah, what you said.

  • Amarilys Gacio Rassler March 6, 2013, 8:23 AM

    This is a bit confusing to me. Harry Potter was written by someone who studied the occult and used it to write it and who was not a believer. I once counseled a young woman who had a “man” manifesting on top of her at night. Of course it was a spirit, a demon. The young woman was a believer. After going through the process of counseling to see why the demon had come we discovered the fact that a neighbor had given her sister a Harry Potter book. She found this out after I encouraged her to search her home for anything occultic. We covered everything else that might have let the demon in. When she found the book and got rid of it the apparitions stopped. There are “power objects” in the occult world. I do believe that God can use such a book to bring people to Christ. However, as Christians when do we take heed to what He says in His Word about not bringing an unclean thing into our house? This has not been the first time that there has been an occult object in someone’s home and that after we got rid of it and prayed for cleansing the demons left. I can understand reading Christian material with supernatural themes and using fantasy to create art. I have a problem with going into an occult book for entertainment unless God for some specific reason has given us the freedom to do so.

    • Josh March 6, 2013, 10:13 AM

      Um…there is no proof that Rowling “studied the occult and used it to write.” This little misunderstanding stems from a satirical article published in “The Onion” (itself a satirical publication) back in the late ’90s. Rowling actually calls herself a Christian and is a member of the Church of Scotland. Now, one could question whether she is saved, but that ultimate knowledge belongs to God alone.

      • Amarilys Gacio Rassler March 8, 2013, 9:10 AM

        I do hope that Rowling is saved and I need to pray for her. I have a friend who was raised in a Generational Satanic family. She’s the real thing. She tells me Harry Potter is occultic and fueled with demonic power and instructions to start a beginner in occult practices. I suffered practicing the occult and don’t feel I have the freedom from the Lord to get into that book. I have a problem with any book without a Christian purpose that is written to pull young people into dabbling with the occult. I’m sure God can use anything though. Even things he’s not pleased with to bring a message even of salvation to those He wants to reach. Right now though wicthcraft is witchcraft for me. I get the message from His Word He’s not for it. And when it’s given as a method to achieve good … I have a problem with it. We’re desensitizing our youth to evil.

    • Thea March 6, 2013, 9:33 PM

      About the young woman who would experience a man/demon manifesting on top of her each night, there’s actually a sleep disorder known as sleep paralysis which is when people partially wake up while they’re still unable to move (this is normal during the REM cycle, as the muscles are so completely relaxed that the person can’t move, which is good because our most vivid dreams happen at that point and, if we *were* able to move at that point, we’d sleepwalk every time we entered the REM cycle). Anyways, the other thing that happens during this time is that people tend to feel extremely frightened, partially because they’re paralyzed, and partly because they often see a figure on top of them. This figure tends to be seen as a demon or a person, and is a hallucination that occurs because they’re in between waking and dreaming and so their dreaming is being superimposed on reality (this is where the original stories of nightmares -demons that sat on people’s abdomens or chests during the night- come from). Sleep paralysis is most often triggered by stress, and it also has a tendency to run in families.

      Now. I’m not saying that demons don’t exist or that they don’t do things. That would be foolish. What I *am* saying is that, sometimes, the things that we attribute to demons aren’t actually demons. In the case of this young woman, it may have been a demon, or it may have been that she was stressed about something and it triggered bouts of sleep paralysis, which are stressful in and of themselves, and could have kept triggering more of the same. Once you decided on the cause and told her what would stop these events, she believed you and followed your prescribed course of action, and her stress left, resulting in no more bouts of sleep paralysis. Since I don’t know the whole situation, I don’t really know if this is actually the proper explanation. I just wanted to mention that this is a possibility.

      Anyways. Rambling person is rambling…

      • Amarilys Gacio Rassler March 8, 2013, 9:19 AM

        Thea, we can attribute demonic oppression to many other things than what it is. I think if when I was so oppressed in 1979, if I had fallen into the hands of someone that believes like you do, I would have been placed in a mental hospital and pumped with all kinds of medications. To my deep sorrow I have counseled people like that. Yes, there’re mental illnesses but sometimes there is demonic oppression that manifests as the symptoms of those illnesses. Sad to say there’re even cases where there is both. Demons love confusion and go for the weak and helpless. There should be prayer and fasting and counseling when the Lord leads us to help those types of persons. But for the grace of The Lord … go I.

        • Thea March 8, 2013, 11:03 AM

          Oh dear, I would *never* send someone to a mental hospital to be pumped full of medication. Whether their ailment is demonic or not, that is definitely not the first thing to do.

          I’m actually in school right now to become a counsellor. Helping people in that manner has been on my heart for years and years, even before I’d decided what degree I was going to take. Personally, I don’t want my focus to be on people with mental disorders or demonic oppression, but I will trust God to lead the people to me that I can help, and that he’ll be with me the whole time.

          Because you’re concerned about what I said and where it could lead (and because I would be too, if I were in your place), I want to let you know that, if I were in a situation where I wasn’t sure what was going on, where my training would say “mental illness” and my heart would say “spiritual problems”, I would take my time and really listen to God about what’s really going on and what I can do to help. I would only make a decision based on one counselling session if it was because God was telling me that that’s the call to make. Otherwise, I would take time to discern before I would ever say anything definite.

          I’ve had experience with demons before, so I’d never say they don’t exist, and I’d never say that they’re never involved in what looks like mental illness. As you said, they’re not always the cause, but I know that I can trust God to tell me what’s really going on in any situation.

          I’m so glad that you counsel people, are willing to and do look for more than just the physical. People are in sore need of a perspective like that, and mainstream psychologists just aren’t able to give many people the help they need. I just want to say thank you for doing what you do.

      • Amarilys Gacio Rassler March 8, 2013, 1:44 PM

        Thanks, Thea. I appreciate your softness.

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