So since people are up in arms over this Harry Potter debacle…and seeing as I’m an ex-Potterhead, I thought I’d weigh in.
I’ll start by saying that I got involved in witchcraft and occult practices after reading Harry Potter when I was about 10 years old. That being said, I’m not the kind of Catholic that thinks that readings stories about witches and spells is intrinsically evil, and that Harry Potter should be forbidden. But I definitely don’t think that just because it’s a fantasy book it’s neutral, and that it won’t incite kids’ interest in the occult.
I grew up in a Greek family that is culturally Orthodox and that dabbled in witchcraft. In a lot of ways, I thought that the rituals we took part in at church overlapped with the occult practices my grandmother and cousin did. There was something mystical, or as Charles Taylor would say, enchanted, about all of it…and it fascinated me. It filled me with the sense that there was more to life than meets the eye, and that spirits were present in our midst. Both Eastern Orthodoxy and witchcraft served as escape hatches to the stifling confines of secular materialism.
Several of of my family members, alive and deceased, had a spiritual sensitivity. I have an aunt and uncle who were a nun and monk respectively. My grandmother reads coffee grinds (she actually does predict the future) and my cousin has received messages from (spirits posing as?) dead family members and has heard an icon of the Annunciation speak to her. My grandmother, whose devotion to Christianity is at best nominal, never saw predicting the future to go against her religion. For her and my cousin, the two traditions complemented each other, forming a syncretic mysticism.
When I read Harry Potter, it made me more interested in what I saw my grandma and cousin doing. I asked for a Ouija Board and Tarot cards for my birthday. I started checking my horoscope everyday and tried learning spells. The only thing that worked for me was the Ouija Board. We had spirits that presented themselves as dead family members and told us about future events. I found that as I continued to read the Harry Potter series, my desire to become a serious wizard increased.
Eventually, the spirits started cursing us. I read about people who had dangerous experiences with Ouija Boards, so I hid it in the garage for a while. After I converted to Catholicism eight years later, and started experiencing what some call spiritual warfare, I decided to stay far away from anything related to witchcraft or the occult.
If my family wasn’t involved in witchcraft, and if I hadn’t inherited a “spiritual sensitivity,” would Harry Potter have inspired me to look further into occult practices and casting spells? Probably not. And even if I decided to try waving around a wand and muttering some jibberish Latin words, nothing would have really happened. The same way praying a rosary without meaning it, or without having already established a basic spiritual awareness, very little is going to happen. You need to already have some kind of experience of the spirit world, or have that kind of sensitivity…and above all, you have to mean it.
Ultimately, what keeps me from playing with witchcraft is the certainty that Christ promises me a kind of hope and meaning that the occult–that casting spells and conjuring spirits that would help me manipulate and impose my will onto reality–could never give me.
That being said, I do think parents and educators do need to be more wary of kids experimenting with the occult. As more and more popular entertainers make reference to occult symbols, practices, and themes…and as culture in general moves further toward a sense of nihilism that borders on the demonic, we can’t afford to be naive. In some circles, it’s considered #woke to be a witch. Reading tarot cards, consulting psychics, and playing with crystals is in. So yes, Harry Potter might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, making a kid decide to start dabbling with dark forces.
At the end of the day, Christian parents and educators should focus on forming kids to know, understand, and love Christ and His Church. The better their formation, the easier it is for them to engage with “the World” and discern what is true and what is false in it. Help them to see that the promises Christ offers them surpasses the false promises of witchcraft and ungodly spirits. Besides, banning the books will fan the flames of their curiosity, making them more likely to read it.
Teach young people to be like Paul: “test everything, retain what is good.”