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 so, the HP Series is pagan in nature, and it would not come from surface elements of witchcraft, but an underlying witchcraft that is the actual books. We’ll unpack that statement as we go, and further investigate how witchcraft could be embodied in a written work in the coming post.
So, why begin a blog about Spiritual Christianity with a discussion of Harry Potter? There are many surprising outcomes that come from this starting point. Rowling accomplished no small feat in her extraordinary use of symbolism – especially where that symbolism is purposefully spiritual. Come along for the ride and see where this rabbit trail led me. By the end of this six-part series, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
– a caveat –
The discussion of HP and paganism is a pandora’s box in the Christian sphere. I hope the conversation involving heated fundamentalism pointed at Rowling is old hat and we can pursue a grounded intellectual conversation. I’m not on a witch hunt.
Joanne Rowling was the person of the year for Time in 2007. If that article doesn’t endear you to her as a real human being with a compassionate heart, I don’t know what will!
At the same time, she has had the influence of a century on the world. That is no overstatement! Can we examine the message of her books and their underlying wisdom without hatred? If so, read on!
For starters take a look at this fascinating headline from the academic world (derived from this article):
Harry Potter Replaces the Bible as the Shared Text
Here is the revelation from the author’s orientation week at the University of Chicago:
“Two-Level Tragedy His 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, as backward as we might imagine them because they didn’t have televisions, cassette players, or electric typewriters (this was 1979) 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 on two levels. As individuals, we were impoverished because what we had read and studied instead of these books was almost certainly less than substantial or edifying. And the television programs, music, and movies we enjoyed were, he suggested, demeaning and soul corrosive. (He said this as a Platonist, incidentally, not in light of any religious beliefs or Puritanism…). In the culture, however, the damage of our mis-formation was much greater and would be what cemented our ignorance, 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. Literature mavens like Harold Bloom (not to be confused with Allan) may think Harry Potter little better aesthetically or thematically than Batman TV serials, but even the Ivory Tower and Christian Ghetto residents 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.”
If these aren’t good reasons to take a little time over Rowling’s literary approach, I don’t know what are!
For the moment we’re interested in the purpose of the books and the source of their wisdom: do they induct the reader into the processes of alchemy? For those who aren’t familiar, here is a brief explanation of what alchemy is:
What is Alchemy?
Alchemy began in ancient times. Its development was linked to a lack of hope in various cultures regarding the afterlife. Alchemists pursued immortality along with 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. On a superficial level, their goal was to create the Philosopher’s Stone which would allow a person to turn ordinary metal into gold.
However, in another sense, the metals in alchemy bear correspondence to a person’s inner (spiritual/psychological) condition. As each area (metal) is addressed, the energies are transmuted and the person can overcome their base nature. The goal is enlightenment and internal purification, so that one may overcome death and obtain immortality.
Now, this is a gross oversimplification of alchemy. The spiritual path of alchemy should not be thought of as simplistic. In fact, it is extremely layered as well as compelling. The spiritual promises align closely with Christian tradition while being entirely humanistic. As a result, alchemy is rapidly joining hands in syncretism with Christianity. (As a side note, this is how J. K. Rowling could be both a part of the Church of Scotland and an alchemist without any cognitive dissonance).
What are your thoughts?
A MUST READ showing the basis of HP to be alchemy, is this post by an alchemist. I’m not even going to try and top what’s written there. Investigate the proposal yourself, then please reciprocate in the comments!
Do you find spiritual depth in Harry Potter? What do you think makes it a re-read? What symbolism do you think dominates the series?
Come back next time as we move the conversation forward: The Magic of Symbolism. For now, 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.