//Harry, magic, and the Bible

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I grew up believing (firmly) that Harry Potter was evil. I could watch Lord of the Rings, Willow, and Stardust to my heart’s content, but Harry Potter was a horse of a different color. When I first saw the Lord of the Rings, I was enchanted. I thought, This is very different from what I know of Harry Potter, so okay. Then I watched Stardust, and thought, This is a lot of magic, but all the witches are bad, so okay. This is still different. Then I watched Willow, and thought, Okay, we have wands and a good sorceress and a bad sorceress. Wait. Why is this okay and Harry Potter isn’t?

Since double standards have become my biggest peeve over the years, I began to look into what the Bible said about magic. I wanted magic to be okay so badly, but I decided that if my research turned up with the result Magic = Evil, I would go with it. It would be devastating, but I would stick by it. The thing was…I couldn’t actually imagine it being wrong. I mean magic, like anything, could be used for evil – but as a fictional element, it complimented Christianity so beautifully, in such vivid ways, that I couldn’t envision the thing that had so frequently inspired and strengthened my faith as inherently bad.

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The Bible mentions several things that we usually toss under the umbrella of ‘Magic.’ Deuteronomy 18 talks about occult practices, and how God strictly forbids them. These occult practices include, according to the King James translation, are: Divination, sorcery, witchcraft, astrology, spells, necromancy, and contact with demons/the dead.

However, anyone who knows language will tell you that these words weren’t around when the Bible was written. When the Bible was translated for ‘modern’ readers from the original Hebrew, the translators did the best they had trying to match words to the text. I did some digging into the etymology of these words and uncovered some fascinating facts.

The word ‘sorcery’ wasn’t around until the 1300’s. It’s derived from the Latin word, sortiarius – meaning ‘teller of fortunes by lot,’ or more accurately, ‘one who influences fate or fortune.’ Obviously we use the word sorcerer (and the female version, sorceress) in very different ways now. Languages change, meanings change. It’s what language does.

The first use of the word ‘spell’ was recorded in the 1500’s, originally meaning ‘a procedure which causes harm,’ but which meaning did not include healing or protection.

The word ‘wizard’ is from the early 15th century, originating from the word ‘wise.’ The word ‘witch,’ usually used as the female version of ‘wizard,’ meant ‘female magician’ but was also closely tied with actual occult practices such as divination and necromancy.

However, accuracy is everything. Let me present two modern media interpretations of witches.

The Vampire Diaries witches, and the Harry Potter witches. Here we have two vastly different kinds of people, although both are called by the same term. Both use what each show calls ‘magic.’ However, having seen both kinds, let me illustrate the differences.

In Harry Potter, ‘witch’ is used the same way as ‘wizard.’ It means someone born with magical abilities. Waving a wand and saying ‘lumine’ to make some light? Hardly evil. The term is, in fact, almost entirely removed from the original meaning of the word.

In The Vampire Diaries, however, we have witches of a very Biblical sense. They communicate with and channel dead spirits. They perform séances. They use dark blood spells. They delve into all kinds of nasty things – things strictly forbidden by the Bible. There are no wands involved. This isn’t magic – this is the occult.

Words change. Actions do not. I could look at my cup of coffee and call it a witch, but that doesn’t make it so. If it began channeling dead spirits, that would make it a witch.

And yet, as I spoke about in my last blog post, we get so caught up in words that we don’t look past what we call something, no matter how inaccurate. We see the term (whether it’s right or wrong) and don’t bother to look at the actions and deeds performed by that person.

I came to believe, although I hadn’t read the books or seen the movies, that Harry Potter probably wasn’t bad. In fact, it was probably good. Maybe even great. However, until you’re actually acquainted with something, you can’t have much of an opinion. I’d told my parents that I disagreed with their views on Harry Potter, but I respected them and therefore wouldn’t bring it into the house. – so when I visited my Potterhead sister Melanie in Washington a couple weeks ago, we marathoned Harry Potter.

I watched with a critical eye. Would I be proven right or wrong? What was the deal with Harry anyway? Why has he always been such a hot topic? So I went into the movies thinking, now I can have an opinion. Now I’ll know what I’m talking about. And if I’m to condemn this series, I’ll know why.

I’ll be honest – I thought there would be more bad stuff in there. I really did. I thought there would be more issues. But you know what? You know the one thing that was truly biblically unsound in the entire series? The Divination class that the kids take in that one movie. The class that’s considered rubbish, even by Hermione, the smartest witch in the class. (Yes. Female magic-users are called witches. But please recall my previous statements about how important terminology versus actual deeds is. There are bad witches, and there are good witches. There are bad female magic-users, and there are good female magic-users. With great power comes great responsibility.)

So, one scene, basically. One scene, in one of the movies, had something I disagreed with. Something that the Bible disagrees with. So why is there such a stigma surrounding the franchise?

Honestly, I think it’s because the series is so powerful. I was incredibly moved, encouraged, and inspired. Harry and his friends are children – children who sacrifice everything to defeat evil. Children whose love and loyalty is stronger than even the Pevensies. The themes of good versus evil, of light versus dark, are so obvious and so bold that I don’t know how anyone misses them. These movies pull no punches, and they don’t fool around. Hermione is tortured by the evil Bellatrix Lestrange – but Hermione doesn’t give in. Harry saves the life of someone he hates. Ron, in the first movie, as a pre-teen, is willing to sacrifice his life to save Harry and Hermione. Over and over again they demonstrate incredible courage, incredible love, and incredible self-sacrifice in the face of terrifying and destructive evil.

They demonstrate more Christ-like character traits than most characters in Christian fiction stories.

J. K. Rowling is often misquoted as saying that she wrote these books to turn children to the occult and away from God. You know who actually said that? Philip Pullman, the author of The Amber Spyglass. (In his novels, the kids end up killing the fictional version of God, and living happily ever after. In Rowling’s books, Harry ends up sacrificing his own life to save everyone from evil. Everyone lives with the result of their consequences. Many die, because many heroes do.) Rowling is also misquoted as saying she uses ‘real spells’ in these books. What she actually said was that she didn’t make up most of what’s in the books. Gryphons, trolls, unicorns, dragons, giants, dwarves, goblins. The ‘spells’ are all just Latin words. The only people who can use magic are those born with natural tendencies towards it.

This last fact honestly surprised me – I’d been led to believe that the franchise presumed to teach any kid how to use magic. This just isn’t the case. Harry discovers he has magical abilities when he causes the glass in a snake exhibit to disappear long enough for his vile cousin to fall in; and thus, he is sent to Hogwarts to learn how to control and use his magic responsibly.

Magic, as a fictional element, can be used for good or bad – but it isn’t in the Bible. You know what my etymology searches turned up? God forbids communication with the dead. He forbids communication with spirits. He forbids fortune-telling. And magic, as we know it in fiction today, is never once mentioned. Oh, sure, modern translations use the word, but it’s misapplied. Every time it’s used, it’s in the context of necromancy or fortune-telling.

Most people think they’re being discerning by hating Harry Potter, that they’re telling the good from the bad. I thought this for a long time, too. But over the past year I’ve really studied and dug into magic and the Bible and what it says, and this post presents my conclusion.

Magic is a tool. It can be used for good or bad. Etymology is important. Deeds are more important than terms. Terms can be misapplied.

You may disagree with me, and I respect that, but I’ve done my research and I have dug for the honest truth.

A Parting Note: I know a lovely lady who is very cautious around fictional magic because her family has a history of being involved in the occult. This is perfectly understandable. This is, I believe, what the Bible means when it talks about stumbling blocks. It’s like alcohol: a glass of wine is amoral. In fact, it’s even beneficial to the health – but if you’re a recovering alcoholic or have a history of alcohol abuse, that glass of wine becomes something far more powerful, and you are wise to avoid it. There are more important issues than Harry Potter, and it’s not a salvation issue anyway.

I’m going to leave you with Romans 14: 14 – 17, as final food for thought.

 “I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that [there is] nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him [it is] unclean. But if thy brother be grieved with [thy] meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. Let not then your good be evil spoken of: For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.”

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38 thoughts on “//Harry, magic, and the Bible

  1. I have been going back and forth on this myself. I was raised the same way, it wasn’t till I was older that I started questioning the hypocrisy of some of it. I remember the same people who told my mom Harry Potter was evil, said the same of Hunger Games. They have been uninformed I think or simply didn’t care to research their claims. That lead me to do what you did, reading the Bible and searching for confirmation that magic is evil. I came to the same conclusion as you.

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  2. I’m still skeptical and wary of the magic in Harry Potter, but thank you for writing this post. What are some of the sources you went to that talked about the Biblical meaning of words? I’m curious about this and it would be helpful to go through them myself, I think.

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  3. Thank you for this. I have a similar story where I was told all these things about the Harry Potter books. I wasn’t allowed to read them until I was in middle school and by then I didn’t care to. But during college I read them one summer and I enjoyed it. (My sister did the same.) I love knowing that opinions can change and people don’t have to push it in our faces that we thought we knew something but learned we were wrong or at least there was more information than we had. It’s reassuring as a fantasy writer myself to know I don’t have to defend why I write what I write.

    I think the biggest thing is that people don’t realize how intuitive children are about what’s fiction and not fiction. Most kids can tell Harry Potter is just a story. It doesn’t mean the stories lose their magic or sense of wonder and excitement. It just means most kids aren’t going to take it to heart and become full-fledged members of the occult for reading books about wizards (or witches..;) )

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  4. I really enjoyed this. Thank you for sharing your research with us. A friend, Kat Heckenbach, shared this with me and it really helped me to understand better what the whole HP thing is about. I have recently opened up to the possibility of being wrong on the whole thing too. I related quite a bit to your inner wonderings. I just got the book from the library and now that I’ve read this, I am even more excited to read book 1. Have a happy day.

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    1. I’m acquainted with Kat! I’m glad this was some help to you – I did a lot of thinking and praying and research over the last year. Sometimes admitting we don’t know everything is the beginning of actual knowledge.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hmm. You know, I’m vaguely uncomfortable with magic in all forms. It’s a point of fact that a lot of people deep into witchcraft find Tolkien inspirational (I happen to know some people like that). I see the Christian themes in Tolkien, but I’m not 100% a fan of his use of magic. Fortunately for me, the story rather holds together in many ways without being directly magical. I mean, the Ring of Power is magical, but if forms a pretty good spiritual analogy–and the magic that formed it is referenced in the story, but not performed in it. Ringwraiths are arguably magical, but they function just as well as “otherworldly.” Etc, etc. What I would call “actual” magic is not all that common in LOTR, even though of course it does exist.

    Willow is a fun story, but not a great one in my opinion. It does feature plenty of magic–but plenty of non-magic too.

    Harry Potter is different because magic is woven into the story in a very thorough way. Without magic, Harry Potter is no story at all! Having said that, I don’t think Harry Potter comes straight from Satan. But I think it does things I don’t care for much. It puts human beings in positions of power that God never intended. Real witches DO like Harry Potter (I’ve known several who do), even though they agree “real” magic doesn’t work like that.

    Having said that, I’ve given Harry Potter the objective try you mentioned and in fact didn’t like it very much. It was charming in some ways, but I feel the “muggles” thing is rather insulting to ordinary humans. And it’s a bit over the top and goofy for me in many places. Plus the whole school of wizardry thing seems cheesy to me. The only thing I think J.K. Rolling is really good at is naming things, be it spells, characters, places. She’s a genius at that. Otherwise–not so much.

    I’m more of a science fiction kind of guy in truth and when I deal with magic, I find myself working to make it a form of undiscovered technology more often than not. Which is not Harry Potter’s style at all.

    So yeah, I can agree with you that Harry Potter is not straight from the Devil. The story line is not fundamentally different from many other Fantasy stories. However, that isn’t necessarily a good thing, because Fantasy stories really DO inspire actual witchcraft at times. Plus, I’m just not a huge fan of some things in the series that seem a bit goofy to me. If my kids got into Harry Potter I would not freak out (this actually already happened with one of my sons, so I’m not talking hypothetically). But I wouldn’t raise them on it either.

    Sorry for my lack of enthusiasm, but that’s where I am on this topic.

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    1. Thank you for your perspective; and while I like Harry Potter, I’ll never be a Potterhead like I am a lover of Lord of the Rings. They’re written very differently and things are portrayed very differently – I would choose the Lord of the Rings every time. However, I don’t think Christians have to be afraid of Harry Potter, and I think there’s much good to be found in it. (Real witches also like Narnia; my sister has known examples. Yet I hope to raise my children on it.)

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    2. We can’t live our lives avoiding books, t.v. shows, movies because witches / satanists / people who live in nude colonies like them and there’s some unwritten principle that whatever witches / satanists / nude colonists like must be wrong or evil in and of itself because those people like it then all of us normal people shouldn’t like those things.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. There is so much that can go into this topic, but I like that you included etymology.
    I’ve seen magic systems in fiction that resemble science, and some that had the wizards more like prophets. These were all from Christian writers, and I thought they worked well.

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    1. I think many kinds of ‘magic’ are portrayed well, in many different ways. It’s probably why I’ll always love Lord of the Rings more than Harry Potter – (much more than) – because I love how the magic is portrayed. It has a much grander, ‘epic’, allegorical feel, and that will always be my favorite.

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  7. Thanks for writing such a thoughtful post. I really appreciate your points about respecting your parents’ preferences by not watching Harry Potter in their house, and also about being sensitive to those around you for whom the content may be a stumbling block. I live in Mozambique, where witchcraft is still very much a part of the culture. I was exposed to Harry Potter for the first time here, and felt convicted to stop watching after the second movie because I just felt like it was disrespectful to my Mozambican friends for whom the whole idea of witchcraft is still very much a stumbling block and a point of contention. Honestly, though, I wasn’t a big fan of the stories. I felt like they were fairly predictable, and there were other themes, besides those of witchcraft, that made me uncomfortable. There are levels of richness in the Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia that I just didn’t find in Harry Potter.

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  8. ACK! YOU SAID HOLY “GHOST” AT THE END!! OCCUUUUULLLLLLTTT…
    Thank you for writing this post. :-) Got a good head on them shoulders a’ yers, Mirriam.

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  9. Love this! My Harry Potter story resembles yours – grew up thinking it was bad, questioned what I thought about it but still honored my parents, then after they gave their okay, my siblings and I read the books and watched the movies. And now I pretty much love it. :P I wrote two blog posts about it and they basically the same as yours. Great job with the etymology of the names and spells!

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  10. Excellent post, thank you for this!

    Ah, yes, the “magic question”. Frankly I wish someone would do a post about it that wasn’t the usual “Harry Potter versus Narnia and LotR” because there are other books out there so what about magic in those? and also because the HP haters and the LotR haters and the people who just think magic is always bad just give me a headache and I’m so tired of the whole argument. -_-

    So yes, thanks for this, I really enjoyed your thoughts! :)

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  11. This. is. incredible. Also refreshing, honest, well-researched… Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and findings!

    They demonstrate more Christ-like character traits than most characters in Christian fiction stories.

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  12. I’m sorry but you used the wrong source (etymology) the sources that you should have used for this subject matter is, the Bible and the Strongs concordance. Modern uses of words may change but God and His Word NEVER change. Look up Deuteronomy 18 and study it using the Strongs Concordance and you then will no the truth. There is no such thing as good magic and bad magic, the Bible does not show two forms of magic. In the Bible magic is clearly called witchcraft and their are not good and bad witches either, magic, witches and sorcery are all of Satan. Sugar coat it any way you want evil is evil.

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      1. My point is why would you not use the Bible and Strongs Concordance which is the accurate translation of Deuteronomy 18. The Bible says to abstain from all appearance if evil. 1Thessalonians 5:22

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          1. Ok then, if you are using scripture and Strong Concordance then how do you come to your conclusions that some magic is good and some magic is bad and that there are good witches and bad witches? I am confused, I don’t think you know what you believe. This article is all over the place.

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            1. Ah, I see where you’re confused. Okay. The original words were translated into modern words. Languages change that way. For example, in the Bible when it says ‘wizard’ it is /always/ in the context of necromancy. But words are often misapplied to the wrong thing. So many modern fictional wizards are /not/ necromancers – the words are misapplied to describe them. However, if someone tried to say a necromancer was okay, I’d have none of it. (For instance, there’s a series of books by Garth Nix that was highly recommended to me, but I realized the protagonists were necromancers, so I didn’t read it.)

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              1. Ah, so a little bit of evil is ok…..hmmmmm. Are there good demons and bad demons too? With your reasoning that would be the case. Evil is evil is evil, no matter how you twist it, so this article does not hold water. People will do what they want to do even when darkness is brought into the light and I believe that is the case when it comes to HP and Christians who see it as just an innocent portrayal of evil. The Bible should ALWAYS be our first and ultimate authority if we want to know the truth. No where in the Bible is it even hinted that there are good forms or a positive use of magic or spells therefore we must not be acquainted to evil in any form.

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                1. I think what Mirriam is trying to say is that the Bible wasn’t written in English. It was written in other languages, which over the years have been translated in a way that confuses the meaning of “witch” to many English-speakers (especially if you read the King James). A “witch” or “wizard” in Harry Potter isn’t someone who practices the occult (which is a blanket term for what the Bible speaks against), therefore they aren’t evil. They aren’t “doing” or “performing any evil actions”. You can’t call a man evil because of his title. He has to perform a wicked act to be called evil.

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                  1. There are bad witches, and there are good witches. There are bad female magic-users, and there are good female magic-users. With great power comes great responsibility.)

                    The above statement used by Mirriam is what my comments are related to. The above statement is what Satan hopes one will believe so that they will be come entangled and not realize it.

                    I will now comment on HP.
                    Harry is using his own devices to defeat evil, that clearly goes against the Word of God and would beg the question, Why did Jesus die if one can count on there own devices, that would be called secular Humanism.

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  13. This is a great post! I had a similar journey (though I was a mother of young children). As a girl who was (unfortunately) fascinated with the occult from a young age, as an adult I wanted to understand what the Word truly says about these things, and I wanted to read Harry Potter. But as a mother I didn’t want to stumble into a trap. I discovered all the same things you did. Language is a funny, fascinating thing. Now as a fantasy author, I understand the power of the imagination. And it’s beautifully and wonderfully made. ;) I just wish more Christian writers—or just plain Christians—would try to understand better what God as actually said, instead of taking it for granted.

    God bless!

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  14. Thank you for such an informative post! This is a great, Christian, well-thought through perspective and I greatly appreciate a well-rounded approach to the series. I completely agree, and you’ve put it so much more succinctly than I would be able to.

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  15. Excellent post! As a Christian writer of speculative fiction (sci-fi, fantasy, etc), “might and magic” stories are near and dear to my heart. For a long time, I considered them kinda a “guilty pleasure”, possibly at odds with my walk with Christ, but I’ve come to realize that this is not the case. Much like your experience, it took me actually scrutinizing portrayals of magic, not relying on what other people said about it but doing my own legwork in lining up the arguments presented in scripture.

    A few things I’d like to speak to…

    [God forbids communication with the dead. He forbids communication with spirits. He forbids fortune-telling.]

    This is so, but the question that is often neglected is WHY does He forbid these things? WHY are they sinful?

    We know that everything is sinful or not based on not only what God commands, but more fundamentally what God WANTS. Righteousness is about intentionally adhering to His personality, whereas sin is about DEVIATING from that personality. It’s the difference between righteously eating an apple today, and sinfully eating of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden — it wasn’t the eating itself, or the item itself, but the refusal to adhere to God’s Will.

    So… communicating with the dead? Communication with spirits? Fortune-telling? That’s leaving the natural world and delving into the supernatural for our answers… but NOT asking them of our supernatural God. It treats the answers of spirits as SUPERIOR to answers found — or intentionally denied — in God. When God doesn’t speak, there’s a REASON He doesn’t speak, and communicating with the dead suggests that God’s refusal is unacceptable, and so we’re doing an end-run around Him.

    When I write magic, I write it as a natural inclination, similar to Harry Potter. To use magic is no more “inherently” sinful as walking or feeling or seeing… though you and I can agree that walking to the wrong places, feeling the wrong things, or seeing the wrong sights CAN be sinful. It’s not the ACT ITSELF that makes something sinful or righteous, but the “why” attached to the “what”. Who are we serving? Who is being given priority? Who is being glorified? THAT is the determining factor in whether or not fictional “magic” is sinful or not, IMO.

    Regards :)

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