What do Pagans think of Harry Potter? I was curious, so I went looking for some perspectives. Searching for “Pagan perspectives on Harry Potter” gets you a sea of mostly-Christian anti-HP writing with just a few Pagan sites bobbing among the waves. But I did find a few thoughts to share with the Potterkreis. I had vague plans to put this into Serious Thoughtful Blog Post Form, but I’m getting sick and time is running out, so I’m just going to throw some links at you all and go watch Elementary.
Please bear in mind that modern Paganism is highly pluralistic not just in practice, but in principle. None of these opinions should be taken as representative of “Pagans in general” or “Wiccan doctrine” or anything like that – there’s no such thing. And, as an outsider, I don’t have much of a basis for choosing these links except that they came up and I was lazy. So, grains of salt all around.
Much like Christians who like Harry Potter, Pagans who like Harry Potter generally view it as a fun fantasy with good moral lessons. I don’t get the impression that most Wiccans or Pagans would be down on kids getting interested in their religion because of Harry Potter. You can see varying degrees of impatience with noobs here and there, but it’s a small enough community that clueless newbies aren’t really considered a nuisance if their interest is genuine; for the most part, they seem happy to explain.
Here’s a one guy’s brief summary of the difference between Wicca and Pottercraft, and some things they have in common. [Pretty much spoiler-free unless you don’t know anything about mandrake lore]
Zebrine Gray has a longer look at “Ritual Keys in Harry Potter’s Wizarding World,” with a bibliography at the end if you’re interested [Spoilers for later books are dense on P. 5, 6, and 7; less so earlier; the conclusion and bibliography are spoiler-free]
Starhawk hopes that HP will lead some readers to check out RL magical religions by presenting an appealing picture of magic users in connection with valuable moral lessons. [Spoiler-free unless you’ve never read or heard anyone talk about The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.]
Other people are more skeptical of attempts to link the two: [moderate movie spoilers only]:
I’m sure that somewhere along the line some teenager went from Harry Potter to “Teen Witch” but those kids were going to find “Teen Witch” at some point anyways. Besides, if you read Potter and then tried to recreate it with modern Wicca you’d be super disappointed. I know Oberon Zell has tried to market himself as Dumbledore, but I don’t think it’s really gotten a whole lot of traction outside of our little community.
“Super disappointed,” because it doesn’t take long to learn that Potter magic and RL magic are two very different practices. Like newspaper astronomy and the Hubble Space Telescope, they have a distant common ancestor and use some of the same words, but diverge sharply in several important respects.
In her review of the first Harry Potter movies, Peg Aloi at WitchVox, a website tracking Wiccan and Pagan charaters in the media, thought the movie and book had positive lessons for RL magic practitioners. [Very mild film spoilers; this link is probably safe for all y’all]:
I was struck again and again at the myriad magical lessons inherent in this story and their application to modern witchcraft and magical practice. Some of the best scenes and lines that speak to this were unfortunately left out, as when Hermione says, “This isn’t magic, it’s logic. A lot of the greatest wizards haven’t got an ounce of logic.” We see what happens when young wizards and witches don’t study their herblore carefully. We see how easy it is to be fooled by glamour, and how easy it is to want to be fooled indefinitely. We see how foolish it can be to set off boldly in the face of the unknown. We hear the fear and hatred in the voices of muggles when they refer to their own flesh and blood as “freaks.” We see that love is the greatest virtue a magician can have. We see that true magic is not about spells and potions and brooms and amulets, but about friendship and bravery and courage and truth.
Pagan pop-culture blog The Juggler has a good perspective on characterization in HP – [GENUINE SPOILERS IN THIS LINK]:
Real people live real lives. While mostly good, they sometimes do bad things. It may be an accident, a misunderstanding, a lack of proper perspective, or a necessity. It may even be on purpose. Still, in the real world people are complicated, not one-dimensional do-gooders. Rowling’s books tapped into this uncertainty and brought her readers characters that were more like themselves than almost any other work of fantasy. . .
The good vs. evil trope is just as much a part of Harry Potter as it is in those other successful works, yet most of the characters exist between the dark and the light along with everyone in the audience. Despite being magical, the characters are real and we love them because of, not despite their warts.
One potential criticism of the books from a Pagan perspective is that they present the ability to participate in magic as an intrinsic, inherited trait rather than an ability anyone can acquire with practice. I wasn’t able to find a lot of pagans who think this is too bad, though, given that Harry Potter is a fantasy, its version of “magic” is related but distinct, and no one is trying to change teapots into chickens in the Pagan world, anyway. David Liss’ secular take is more critical [Spoilers in comments, but not in the essay], and if I thought about it a little more, mine might be, too. Why did Rowling make magic a genetic trait, anyway?
Here’s a little piece on wandwork, with some RL wands: http://oldways.com/day-92-wands/
More wands and some advice on how to make a wand.
Here’s a Pagan counter to the idea that Harry Potter is a “Christian story” [MEGASPOILERS; DO NOT READ; SERIOUSLY, THIS POST IS MAJOR SPOILERS ALL THE WAY DOWN]
And a general reflection on Pagan proselytizing from Jason Mankey at Patheos, with some pretty good conversation in the comments [no Harry Potter content at all, so spoiler-free!]