In Part 1 we looked at the spiritual significance of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series. Starting the companion site to The Pilgrimage of Faeriae with a discussion of HP is no arbitrary decision. HP is unprecedented in the thickness of its symbols (in my opinion!). And as such, Rowling’s work has provoked my process as a fantasy writer. I start with her to bring you along a journey of discoveries. We’ll be leaving the HP platform for the unknown, shortly.
First, if you’re a bit skeptical about the spiritual impact of symbolism in a written work, Good!
Let’s dig in.
Return in Philosophical Thought to the Validity of Symbols
When alchemy first developed (in pre-modernism) direct spiritual contact with the divine was the source of knowledge and revelation. In this era, symbols retained intrinsic value and were known to have spiritual import.
In modernism, the institution (scholars and professors) became the authoritative source of knowledge. In that era symbols lost spiritual value because their truth could not be derived from reason, logic and empirical data. Symbols retained nothing more than their two dimensional forms.
However, in postmodernism both sources of knowledge are considered valid.
On Absolutes & Spiritual Joy
Symbolism is everywhere. It gets straight down into the nature of our humanity and connection to God. A quality grasp of symbolism would serve to increase spiritual satisfaction and mature our relationship with truth.
This is a timely conversation because “absolute” truth hasn’t been decimated by postmodernism as much as we might think. That logical necessity simply has a new address (more to come on that!).
How are Symbols Spiritual?
Consider this illustration: all the letters that make up the words I am typing are nothing more than symbols. The words themselves are symbols, but their meaning is spiritual. Their meaning can excite emotions – making you resonate with passion or offence, comfort, joy, fear or aggression. The words themselves are doing this as you interpret their meaning – the meaning of symbols. You do this subconsciously, but your heart is impacted.
Symbolism in Christianity
Christians have always found Scripture replete with symbols. We recognize their spiritual value where they serve as “types” that reveal or point to something greater.
Furthermore, in the book of Hebrews we see precedent that God has given things to people that point to something greater – the tabernacle on earth was a copy of the one in Heaven.
These are just two examples of direct symbolism from Scripture.
Symbolism & Rowling
Now, according to this tradition J.K. Rowling has accomplished an immense spiritual victory simply through having written powerful symbolism into her books read and of those works being read so broadly. According to the spiritual principle of symbolism, every person who reads Harry Potter is vicariously participating in the processes of Alchemy and is influenced under its teachings.
Does that sound quack?
Christianity actually teaches this principle where we say that our Scriptures wash a person and that faith comes by hearing. Thus, in HP we have an example of an influential message working in opposition to the Bible.
Here is an excerpt from my book in progress, The Feast of Ichor (working title):
“Her grandmother had spent her life accumulating those books. She was the one to teach Castalia that oracle writings held hidden power – having the ability to alter a person’s very nature. Most held curses that seeping into the mind transmuted the thoughts. However, Cliewyn had been certain that if such evil works existed, then profitable, even healing ones did as well. She had combed remote isles for even fragments of such lost lore and eventually amassed a collection beyond price.”
J.K. Rowling & C.S. Lewis
Rowling is familiar with C.S. Lewis as someone who also used symbolism in his works. Lewis gave this explanation of his approach:
“I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralysed much of my own religion in childhood. Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation to feel can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did harm. The whole subject was associated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical. But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday School associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons? I thought one could.”
While Rowling has never asserted that she purposes to promote Alchemy as a spiritual path, I find the Hogwarts Motto impressive:
“Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus”
or, in English:
“Never tickle a sleeping dragon.”
What are your thoughts on the power of symbolism?
When you think about your experience of the world, what natural symbols speak to you? Do you enjoy symbolism in literature? Have any examples of your favourites? Share with us in the comments!
Come back next time as we engage the synonymy of Symbols & Absolute Truth!