I don’t want to talk about Harry Potter.
I don’t like the Harry Potter series very much. It’s not terrible, it’s just predictable and not my cup of tea. Maybe the problem is that I didn’t read the books until I was in my twenties, but they just don’t send me. I prefer Madeline L’engle, or Diana Wynne Jones, or Neil Gaiman. But for some reason, undead remnants of the Satanic Panic never rise up and attach themselves to A Wrinkle in Time; they always do so to Harry Potter.
And this has happened again this week. At a Catholic school in Nashville, Harry Potter books were removed from the library after the pastor randomly decided they were demonic and dangerous.
The pastor, Father Reehill, who sounds like a barrel of laughs, reports that “The curses and spells used in the books are actual curses and spells; which when read by a human being risk conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the person reading the text.” He claims he has discussed this with multiple Catholic exorcists, as if that proves anything. I am getting awfully tired of the “I talked it over with an anonymous exorcist and he authorized me to be silly” trope, myself. I am doubly tired of famous celebrity exorcists with cult followings, but that’s another story for another post.
I don’t really feel that something this asinine needs to be corrected, but I’ve seen a lot of people sharing his words approvingly around the internet, so I’ll put my oar in: first of all, this doesn’t sound like any kind of Catholic notion I’ve ever heard of what an evil spirit is. Evil spirits are fallen angels. Angels are spirits, superior to humans in intellect, that lack physical bodies. They are present with us in one way, but they can’t exactly be said to be present in a set place in time the same way physical things can; you can’t “conjure” them any more than saying the prayer to the Holy Archangel Saint Michael or carrying his icon “conjures” Saint Michael. He has immediate awareness so he knows when you’re asking him for his assistance, and I believe he listens and loves and assists us, and I’m grateful; Saint Michael is one of my favorite intercessors. Presumably something similar can happen with evil spirits: you could talk to one and they’d take advantage of that to your detriment. But you can’t teleport them physically into your midst by accidentally reciting a summoning spell while reading a book. That’s superstition, not Catholicism.
Secondly, the curses and spells used in the Harry Potter books are not “real spells.” They are plays on words in garbled Latin. “Expecto Patronum” means “I wait for a patron.” You can say “I wait for a patron” in Latin all you want and not conjure a spirit, or a patron for that matter. You could say “Mater Dei ora pro nobis,” and one particular patron would certainly assist you, but she wouldn’t be coming because of a spell you recited, she’d be graciously answering your request for help. Garbled Latin is irritating, but it’s not demonic, and it’s not a magical spell.
If garbled Latin were a magical spell, we would regularly hear about demonic occurrences happening at high-class prep schools, Tridentine Masses, and while tired medical students tried to memorize their anatomy textbooks. Attorneys would accidentally call up an army of zombies when they tried to say “habeas corpus.” Ancient Rome would not have been brought down by barbarians but by poltergeist. But this is not the case.
The Harry Potter series is one of the most popular series of novels in the world today. I don’t really see why, but I’m glad children are reading big thick books they enjoy and I’m glad they’re enjoying fairy stories. I hope it inspires them to move on to better fairy stories. But if reading Harry Potter caused supernatural events to happen in the real world, we would know by now. The Harry Potter series has sold more than 400 million copies, and I presume most of those copies were actually read rather than used to level the coffee table. If that caused demonic activity, we would see a proportionate massive uptick in demonic activity. And I’m not talking about an interview you read with a wrinkly-faced exorcist in a Catholic newspaper; I mean, the secular world would have caught on as well. A large body of people would have observed some kind of preternatural event by now that hadn’t been noticed prior to 1997. Psychiatrists would be writing to medical journals about the weird new cases of psychosis and pea soup vomiting they’d only observed in children who read Harry Potter books. Parenting magazines would run sensational stories about what to do if your child accidentally kills somebody with a magical curse. Emergency Rooms would be treating children who fell off of flying broomsticks. Something.
And yet, this is not the case either.
The logical implication is that the Harry Potter books don’t do that.
There are plenty of places the devil is present and working in the world today, and it’s in the interest of the Catholic educator to recognize this. We need to arm our children to be light for the real world. Teach them to love God through the sacraments, through prayer and through loving their neighbor as themselves, and to revere life from conception until natural death. That would be a start. And then, when Catechism class is over, they can go to the school library and pick out a nice book to read for fun. I recommend Coraline or something from the Dalemark Quartet. But there’s no reason it can’t be Narnia or the Harry Potter series or The Baby-Sitters’ Club. As long as it isn’t The Plant that Ate Dirty Socks. Anything but The Plant that Ate Dirty Socks.
The whole essence of the Satanic Panic and everything that echoes from it is deeply superstitious. Superstition is not Catholic, and it ought not to be taught in Catholic schools.
(image via Pixabay)
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