My introduction to the magical world of Harry Potter began in 3rd grade.
Every day Mr. Winberg would read us aloud from the book just before the school bell rang to let us out. He did it repeatedly until he was asked to stop by the administration. They were afraid that our impressionable minds couldn’t tell fact from fiction.
But I’m glad happened.
In a way, the incident spearheaded my own pathway into reading. I vowed that I would finish the story. Not knowing where the teacher had left off, I devoured the book cover to cover. Each year marked the tradition of getting the new Harry Potter book. It was definitely a part of my childhood.
Eventually, I would grow to appreciate other works. In Middle School, I became slightly obsessive over Lord of the Rings. I almost went to a convention! From Lord of the Rings, I would gravitate to the lessor known epic fantasy series, The Wheel of Time. Somewhere in between, I would be fascinated with Arthurian legends.
Ultimately it all comes back to Harry Potter.
Magic vs Religion
All the epic fantasies that I grew up with have some sort of magical system. So what is magic?
Magic seeks to manipulate spiritual powers. It is a very technical enterprise. If I say the right words or combine the right ingredients, I will get my desired outcome.
Despite what my former pastor would say Catholic liturgy is not magic. The consecration of the Eucharist is not magic, but a prayer. It begins:
Be pleased, O God, we pray,
to bless, acknowledge,
and approve this offering in every respect;
make it spiritual and acceptable,
so that it may become for us
the Body and Blood of your most beloved Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ.
This marks the difference between magic and religion. The latter seeks to beg God or gods to help with their request. fn
The Historical Tension
The introduction of Christianity to ancient cultures brought with it a tension with the practice of magic. In one hand, the New Testament itself seems indifferent to magic. The Magi bring gifts to the baby Jesus. On the other hand, the dynamic between divine miracles and magical illusions can be seen in the story of Simon the Magician (Acts 8:9-25). In this story, Simon the Magician attempts to buy the power to perform miracles specifically the power to baptize people with the Holy Spirit. Needless to say, this did not go over well and Simon the Magician is asked to repent.
Catholic Teaching Today
“All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to ‘unveil’ the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone” (CCC #2116).
So divination is wrong because it seeks to obtain knowledge from a source other than God. So one cannot practice magic and be Catholic.
The Controversy regarding Harry Potter
So why am I talking about magic? Well, there was a controversy involving a Catholic high school and Harry Potter.
You see, history repeats itself. Father Dan Reehill had the bright idea to remove the Harry Potter book series from St. Edward Catholic school.
The books present magic as good and evil. It glorifies the act of divination, conjuring the dead, and casting spells, therefore, the readers can be persuaded that those acts are not sinful. He also alleges that the cures and spells were inspired by real cures.
He has a point, but then, I’m hoping he removed Lord of the Rings and Narnia too. If not, he just comes across as a hypocrite.
Magic in Lord of the Rings and Narnia
Does Lord of the Rings and Narnia fit Fr. Reehill’s description? Let’s look.
- Does the work present magic as good and evil?
Yes, Lord of the Rings and Narnia surely fit. Gandalf is one of the good guys, yet he is a wizard, who does spell casting. Gandalf can conjure fire and create light. Galadriel, who also does magic, is also depicted as good. So good that she withstands the temptation of the one Ring.
Narnia is in a similar way. Both Aslan and the White Witch have magic. Other beings both good and bad have magic.
Therefore, his first description fits both literary works
- Glorifies divination, conjuring the dead and casting spells**
Lord of the Rings showcases divination through Galadriel’s mirror, where she can see past, present, and future events. Gandalf does spell casting. The only thing left out is conjuring the dead. In my opinion, the fact that Lord of the Rings does not describe conjuring the dead does not shield it from the same criticism. Lord of the Ring glorifies divination and spell casting through its positive depiction of the characters, who do these things.
Narnia doesn’t fare much better. In those stories, the Centaurs are a noble breed of proud warriors, who seek wisdom from the stars. They are skilled in astronomy and divination. How is this any different than astrology? Does CS. Lewis get a pass because he wrote a Christian allegory?
- easily pursued others that the acts are fine
While Harry Potter was my gateway into the fantasy genre, Lord of the Rings captured my imagination. I wanted to be a magical Elf. I joined the fan club website. Bought Lembas (Elven bread) and went on adventures. Could I have then fallen prey to paganism and pop spirituality, yes. Yet that doesn’t mean the work isn’t worth reading.
My opinion about Harry Potter
There has been a rise in occultism and pseudo-paganism in recent years. While we can point fingers at the media (of which Harry Potter seems the least offensive, I’m looking at you Netflix Sabrina the Teenage Witch), the real culprit is ourselves. We have removed beauty, wonder, and reverence from our liturgy and wonder why people flock elsewhere. We deny the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit and act surprised when people search elsewhere for supernatural power. If there is a notable difference with Harry Potter, it would be that it places magic not in some faraway land, but in a modern setting. Yet if the church operated to her full potential, the idea of modern magic would not be so appealing.
- For an opinion that is different than mine go here.