Let’s begin with enchantments.
J.K. Rowling has made no claim that the Harry Potter series is alchemy coded into story, but she has made comments about alchemy here and here, and the evidence within the books points to their being alchemical works.
If this is the case, the HP Series has a pagan nature not owing to surface elements of witchcraft, but a more subtle witchcraft that is the actual books (we’ll unpack that statement in the next post!).
Here’s a headline from the academic world (derived from this article):
Harry Potter Replaces the Bible as the Shared Text
The shared text nurtures the common ground of a culture. It becomes a reference point for shared values & ideas. The following excerpt tells the story of the temporarily-lost shared text. The author is describing his orientation week at the University of Chicago:
” [The Professor’s] question for us to begin our search for the fount of our ignorance and unconsciousness was, “What books do you all have in common?” He asserted that our grandparents’ great-grandparents…had had close to a memorized knowledge of the Bible, Pilgrim’s Progress, and Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans.
He asked if any of us could say he had read all three of those books and had facility with the names of the major and minor characters in each. This was a pretty nerdy lot of teenagers but, of course, none of us could say yes.He explained that this was a tragedy… if left uncorrected. In a nutshell, we had no texts in common that could shape public discourse or guide our conventions. Bereft of a base in Scripture, literature, and history, we were a lost generation.
Five Cheers for Harry. With the advent of Harry Potter, of course, this failing has been corrected in a way that wouldn’t have been conceivable fifteen years ago. …[Even those] who hate Harry hate him in large part because they fear the depth of influence he will have on young hearts and on the culture they will grow up to shape. Like it or not, we now have a shared text.”
Here is a stat to accompany this claim:
“Having sold more than 500 million copies worldwide, Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling is the best-selling book series in history.”
Now, I’m proposing that Harry Potter is a book full of pagan symbolism and that those symbols are speaking powerfully, whether they are interpreted or not. Furthermore, that Harry Potter has created a platform for shared values (spiritual and temporal) on the basis of alchemy. This being the case, understanding the spiritual function of symbols is of renewed importance.
We, Christians, tend to underestimate symbols, and do not even hold our own with proper regard. This series is meant to shape a Christian connection between Symbolism & Spirituality that will sharpen discernment, as well as equip us with a deeper apologetic (See Part 6 of this series). One that will touch our own hearts with incarnate truth, and that can speak to a symbolism-embracing generation (See Part 2). In addition, this topic serves to equip Westernised Christians in the globalised world, which has brought about the enmeshment of Spiritist & Materilaist worldviews (See Part 5). In this arena, materialists downplay the spiritual value of things that they do not understand – such as a spiritually functioning work like Harry Potter.
I cannot over emphasise the far-reaching importance of grasping such a topic as Symbolism & Spirituality. We’ll cover each of the above purposes in the coming posts. For now, let’s unpack Harry Potter.
What is Alchemy & How does it work in Harry Potter?
For those unfamiliar, here is an explanation of alchemy:
Alchemy began in ancient times. Its development took off in cultures which lacked securing promises regarding the afterlife. Alchemists pursued health/medicine, immortality and riches. Their endeavours were the origins of modern chemistry. Alchemists paved the way for what we know about elements and metals and how they interact. In the first place, their goal was to create the Philosopher’s Stone which was a substance that gave a person the power to turn ordinary metal into gold.
However, as an alchemist worked, “out here,” with their hands to obtain the Philosopher’s stone, the process had a corresponding spiritual affect on their body. The transmutation of metals became a craft of symbols. As the literal metals were transmuted, the inward energies were being changed. It was a process through which a person overcame their base nature and ultimately death.
This is all a pretty clear picture of witchcraft, with the tantalising goals of enlightenment, internal purification and everlasting life.
To flesh this out even further, here are the specific processes and promises of alchemy:
“It begins with a longing for God, then the birth of a new soul that leads the old person in the process of transfigurement. The old person is gradually replaced with the new man. Eventually, there is a new mind & a new body as the soul reaches a perfected state and eventual immortality. In essence, the individual breaks up their earthly self to create the new person from scratch. Its a death of self-sacrifice, and then a joyous resurrection” (my paraphrase of this post).
Now, in Harry Potter, the protagonist, Harry obtains the Philosopher’s stone in book 1 and continues through the subsequent phases of alchemy until his is purified and overcomes death in book 7. How does this process work on the reader? Well, Harry is your newborn soul who is leading you through the spiritual journey you need in order to purify yourself of your base nature and overcome it. You follow him through the story and he brings you through your inward battles, showing you by example how to overcome.
Here is what an alchemist had to say about it:
“The aim of this website is to show those who have an open mind and a heart thirsting for the truth that Harry Potter is a road map to liberation. It can lead every true seeker to discover himself and the world we live in, and to help him begin the exciting and immeasurable journey back to God.” (For the full article, showing both the true nature of Alchemy and how it is the basis of Harry Potter, read this post).
As I see it, the path of alchemy is extremely layered as well as compelling. The promises align closely with Christian tradition while being entirely based on self. As a result, alchemy is rapidly joining hands in syncretism with Christianity (this also explains how the author, J. K. Rowling can be both a part of the Church of Scotland and an alchemist without any cognitive dissonance).
Symbolism a Fresh Quest
This series is about learning to take symbols seriously. This post is a teaser to whet your appetite as well as stimulate your discernment. Everyone should have a basic knowledge of Harry Potter. I do not encourage anyone to read the books, but to understand the place they occupy in the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions of people, and what spiritual message they have inoculated.
What are your thoughts?
Do you find depth in Harry Potter? What do you think makes it a re-read?
Come back next time as we move the conversation forward: The Magic of Symbolism.
I leave you with C. S. Lewis…
“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 inducing them.” -The Weight of Glory: and Other Addresses, 31.