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.
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.”