The following is an excerpt from the excellent book How Harry Cast his Spell: The Meaning Behind the Mania for J. K. Rowling’s Bestselling Books, by author John Granger. It is a great read and I would recommend it anyone. You can buy it and other books by him at Amazon.
You may be asking, why on an apologetics website would I be talking about Harry Potter? Simply because I believe Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is an extended apologetic for religious belief against the prevailing naturalist and materialist worldview; for faith in a world of doubt.
But there are other reasons. Steeped in the symbolism of the Christian tradition, the whole Harry Potter series carries an intentional message that deeply resonates with Christian teaching. It has long been my belief that the Church is missing one of the greatest opportunities in the last few decades for sharing the timeless truths of the gospel in a way that is understandable in a secular and Post-Christian age. There is much edification that one can uncover from Harry Potter, if only one cares to do a little intelligent digging.
And now, with many thanks for showing me how to read with “eyes open”, I hand over to the Hogwarts Professor, John Granger:
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Some Christians have objected to Harry Potter because Christian Scripture in many places explicitly forbids occult practice. Though reading about occult practice is not forbidden, these Christians prudently prefer (again in obedience to scriptural admonishments to parents) to protect their children because of the book’s empathetic portrayal of occult practice. These Christian believe that such approving and casual exposure to the occult opens the door to occult practice.
Reading the Harry Potter books myself has convinced me that the magic in Harry Potter is not more likely to encourage real-life witchcraft than time travel in science fiction novels encourages readers to seek passage to previous centuries. Loving families have much to celebrate in these stories and little, if anything, to fear. What they have to celebrate is the traditional, edifying magic of English literature – a magic that fosters a spiritual worldview that is anything but occult orientated.
I say this without hesitation because the magic in Harry Potter is not “sorcery” or invocational magic. In keeping with a long tradition of English fantasy, the magic practiced in the Potter books, by hero and villain alike, is incantational magic, a magic that shows – in story form – our human thirst for a reality beyond the physical world around us.
The difference between invocational and incantational magic isn’t something we all learned in the womb, so let me explain. Invocational means literally “to call in.” Magic of this sort is usually referred to as sorcery. Scripture of every revealed tradition warns that “calling in” demonic principalities and powers for personal power and advantage is dangerously stupid. History books, revealed tradition, and fantasy fiction (think Dr. Faustus) that touch on sorcery do so in order to show us that the unbridled pursuit of power and advantage via black magic promises a tragic end.
But there is no invocational sorcery in the Harry Potter books.
Even the most evil wizards do their magic with spells; not one character in any of the seven books ever calls in evil spirits. Not once.
The magic by spells and wands in Harry Potter is known as incantational wizardry, Incantational wizardry. Incantational means literally “to sing along with” or “to harmonize.” To understand how this works, we have to step outside our culture’s materialist creed (that everything in existence is quantitative mass or energy) and look at the world upsidedown, which is to say, God-first.
For some, the distinction between invocational and incantational magic is a new idea. I’ve been asked about how prayer fits. “Isn’t prayer invocational? Aren’t we calling out to God with this concept – invoking his name – when we pray? How is this ‘bad magic’?”
Calling out to God isn’t bad magic, of course, and the reason helps to clarify the difference between sorcery and the “good magic” of English literature. It is the difference between the psychic and the spiritual realms.
In a materialistic age such as the one in which we live, the distinction between the psychic and the spiritual is hard to keep straight, though it is an understanding all traditional faiths have in common. We struggle to hold on to this distinction because we have been taught that everything existent is some combination of matter and energy. Everything that’s not matter and energy, consequently, is lumped together as “peripheral stuff” or “delusion.” It’s hard to remember the differences between things thrown together in the garbage can of ideas!
The distinction between [them] is critical. The psychic realm – accessible through the soul and including the powers of the soul, from the emotions and sentiments to the reason and intellect – is home to the demonic and angelic created beings and is predominantly a fallen place apart from God. The spiritual realm is “God’s place” – the transcendent sphere within and beyond creation and the restrictions of being, time, and space.
Invocations magic is calling upon the fallen residents of the psychic realm. Prayer is the invocation of God’s name that we might live deliberately and consciously in his presence within time and space.
Incantational magic in literature – a harmonizing with God’s Word – is the story-time version of what life in prayer makes possible. Invoking the powers of the psychic realm is universally forbidden in both in both literary and revealed traditions. However, calling on the spiritual realm and pursuing graces from it are the tasks for which human beings are designed, insofar as we are homo religious. One function of traditional English literature, of which Harry Potter is a part, is to support us in this spiritual life.
Christianity . . . believes creation comes into being by God’s creative Word, or his song. As creatures made in the image of God, we can harmonize with God’s Word and his will, and in doing so, experience the power of God. The magic and miracles we read about in great English literature are merely reflections of God’s work in our life. To risk overstating my case, the magic in Harry Potter and other good fantasy fiction harmonizes with the miracles of the saints.
C. S. Lewis paints a picture of the differences between incantational and invocational magic in Prince Caspian. As you may recall, Prince Caspian and the Aslan-revering creatures of the forest are under attack from Caspian’s uncle. Things turn bad for the white hats, and it seems as if they will be overrun and slaughtered at any moment. Two characters on the good guy’s side decide their only hope is magic.
Prince Caspian decides on musical magic. He has a horn that Aslan, the Christlike lion of these books, had given to Queen Susan in ages past to blow in time of need. Caspian blows on this divinely provided instrument in his crisis. By sounding a note in obedience and faith. Caspian harmonizes with the underlying fabric and rules of the Emperor of the Sea, and help promptly and providentially arrives in the shape of the Pevensie children themselves.
Nikabrick the dwarf, in contrast, decides a little sorcery is in order. He finds a hag capable of summoning the dreaded White Witch in the hope that this power-hungry, Aslan-hating witch will help the good guys (in exchange for an opening into Narnia). Needless to say, the musical magicians are scandalized by the dwarf’s actions and put an end to the sorcery lickity-split.
In the Narnia stories and other great fantasy fiction, good magic is incantational, and bad magic is invocational. Incantational magic is about harmonizing with God’s creative Word by imitation. Invocational magic is about calling in evil spirits for power or advantage – always a tragic mistake. The magic in Harry Potter is exclusively incantational magic in conformity with both literary tradition and scriptural admonition. Concern that the books might “lay the foundation” for occult practice is misplaced, however well intentioned and understandable, because it fails to recognize that Potter magic is not demonic.
[You can read more by John Granger at his website www.hogwartsprofessor.com]
2. For more on the confusion between the psychic and the spiritual realms in our time and the dangers of occultism, please see Charles Upton’s The System of Antichrist: Truth and Falsehood in Postmodernisn and teh New Age (Ghent, NY: Sophia Perennis, 2001), 134-137.
3. See C. S. Lewis, Prince Caspian, chapters 7 and 12. Readers of the Narnia books remember from The Magician’s Nephew that Aslan created that world with his song – as does the divinity in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth.
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