Harry Potter

Straight Talk on Harry Potter

By William J. Schnoebelen

Jan. 30, 2004


No book in recent years has attracted the success of the celebrated "Harry Potter" series. Supposedly these children’s novels, written by a woman in Britain named J. K. Rowling, have made her one of the wealthiest women in the world. She has written four books, the latest being HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE, which weighs in heavier than some laptop computers. In total, her books have sold more than 30 million copies.

Her appealing hero is Harry Potter, a nerdy orphan boy whose parents were killed when he was very young by an evil wizard named Voldemort. From this encounter, he has a lightning bolt-shared scar on his forehead is raised by dull, cruel relatives (an aunt and uncle) who are "Muggles," the Harry Potter term for non-wizards who don’t like or believe in magic and who tend to persecute those who do.

Harry’s saga starts when he is 10 old in THE SORCERER’S STONE and he ages a bit in each book. He is 14 in the latest book. Without going into all the plot details (which may be better known than the Bible), Harry is rescued from his bleak, Muggle-ridden existence by an invitation to come and attend "Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry." From there, he gets into all sorts of adventures, gradually building to a confrontation with the evil wizard who killed his parents.

These are marketed as children’s books (the first is suggested for ages 8-13 and the last book ages 10 to adult) although they are well written and are being enjoyed by adults as well. The problem is in the spiritual nature of the books. Not many books for children come to mind where the main hero is a wizard (or wizard in training).

To be sure, magic is a common feature in fairy tales and fantasy. But whether you are talking about Grimm’s Fairy Tales (some of which WERE awfully grim), the WIZARD OF OZ, or other common stories, there is a difference. Usually the magicians and wizards were secondary characters or even villains and the main ones (Dorothy, Snow White, etc.) were ordinary mortals who were either being victimized or helped by witches. But Harry is the hero, and readers are being asked to identify with him. This is of critical importance, as we shall see later. Magic is serious business, as anyone will tell you who has practiced it. I was heavily involved in magic and sorcery for at least ten years and I believe I am qualified to speak about the subject with some authority and experience.

A rather surprising controversy has arisen within the Body of Christ over the issue of Harry Potter books. These books ARE about magic and sorcery. Of this there can be no doubt. The controversy in the church revolves around whether or not such books should be in the hands of Christian children. Chuck Colson, who is a highly respected Evangelical author and speaker, astonished many when he weighed in on the side of Harry. He claimed the books were not dangerous for children because they were not about magic in the occult sense. Rather, he said, they concern "mechanical magic" which is a literary device. He states that the magic in the Potter books is:

"…purely mechanical, as opposed to occultic. That is, Harry and his friends cast spells, read crystal balls, and turn themselves into animals–but they don’t make contact with a supernatural world…. [It’s not] the kind of real-life witchcraft the Bible condemns." [1]

While Colson does not exactly define his term, mechanical magic, he implies it is something on the order of ray guns or time travel in the science fiction genre — a fictitious construct designed to entice the reader and move the plot along — part of an entirely fictitious universe. I do not find this persuasive. (In fairness to Mr. Colson, he later reversed his decision and now advises caution about Harry.)

First of all, part of the problem is that witches and magicians do exist. They DO cast spells and read crystal balls. A few even work on the discipline of lycanthropy[2] — shape-shifting into animals. Thus, there is nothing fictitious about any of this, except in the minds of head-in-the-sand Christians.

Secondly, part of the problem is defining what magic is. It is a term that has acquired all sorts of connotations in the public mindset. A newborn baby can be "magical." Although it may be poetic to say that your new girl friend’s smile is magic, what has happened is that "magic" has come to mean anything that induces a sense of awe or wonder. This is not precise.

Magic and Magick
Then there is the confusion between stage magic (illusion) such as practiced by folks like Houdini or David Copperfield and "real" magic. For this reason, most serious practitioners of the art of sorcery prefer to spell it the old English way, as "magick," precisely to distinguish it from pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

The famed sorcerer Aleister Crowley defined magick as "the science of causing change to occur in conformity with will." That is very broad. Obviously, if I turn on a light switch in my home, I have caused change to occur in conformity with my will. The way most students of the subject exegete Crowley’s remark is to say that it refers to causing "change" without using the usual mundane methods of causality available to all people.

A dictionary definition is "the supposed art of influencing the course of events by the occult control of nature or of the spirits." [3] This definition is key to understanding the problem with Harry Potter and with Colson’s definition. Most all definitions of magic include the idea of occultism and/or trafficking in spirits. Most often, the spirits are evil.

Harry is a child who is a wizard in training. What is a wizard? Again, the dictionary tells us that a wizard is "a sorcerer, a magician."[4] ANY of the textbooks of magick, called grimoires,[5] make it very clear that the source of true magical power is making pacts with and controlling spirits - evil spirits.

Another bit of confusion that must be cleared up is the difference between magick and witchcraft. The Potter books tend to blur them together, reflecting a common misperception. They are not the same, as any Wiccan (white Witch) will tell you. Some witches practice magick (we did) but some do not. Witchcraft as it is popularly understood these days is a religion, a pagan religion involving the worship of nature deities. Most often these are seen as a goddess and a god. The main point of Wicca for most serious witches is devotion to the gods or goddesses of their religion.

If witches do magick, it is usually of a simple variety, cord spells, candle spells or healings, etc. This is often what is called "folk magic" and is very different from ceremonial magick, the kind usually associated with wizards and magicians. Folk magic is usually done on a "limited budget" and is pretty simple. It often involves things drawn from nature. Nowadays, anthropologists call it "cultural spiritism."

Magicians, in contrast to Wiccans, often worship nothing. A Wiccan practitioner of magick might have faith in the gods of Wicca, but most magicians we have dealt with over the years are either agnostic or atheistic.

Usually, when one thinks of magick or sorcery, we are talking about "high magick" or "ceremonial magick." Ceremonial or high magick, as the name implies, usually involves quite complex rituals and a lot of time, study and preparation. For example, some of the rituals we did as witches who happened to be ceremonial magicians took more than six months to prepare.

Witches PRAY to their deities. A magician will seldom pray to anyone. He or she will command! The magician believes in the efficacy of her ritual work. She would not pray to get a result anymore than I would pray before turning on the light in hope that I would get electricity. It is not a matter of faith, it is a matter of "scientific technology". However, the technology behind magick is all mental, emotional and demonic in nature.

Colson and others make the mistake of assuming that there really is no such thing as the kind of magic described in the Potter books. This is not entirely true. While some of the activities in the Potter books, (playing Quidditch [6] for example) are obviously fantasy, many of them are not. Many Christians do not even realize that there are people out there who are serious sorcerers. Since they assume that all this is fictitious, what can be the harm in reading about it?

As a former magician myself, let me explain what charming little Harry Potter would have to do to arrive at the place he is at in these books. Let me walk you through an actual magical rite in brief. To achieve the power to fly, for example, the wizard might employ any number of rituals. He would have to determine what kind of elemental force is involved.

Flight or levitation would be of the AIR element.[7] This would determine the kind of robes, incense, candles, evocations, talismans or amulets and ritual tools used. Simply put, the wizard must use all the right tools and then cast a magick circle [8] and a triangle of manifestation. These are usually painted on the floor, or laid down in some sort of incense, sulfur or chalk. The wizard stays in the circle. There are certain prescribed numbers of candles or flaming pots that might be used, depending on the magical workbook and system used. The wizard would need to wear a certain colored robe — usually blue or orange for air. He would be armed with a magic wand (not a stick with a sparkly star on the end) because wands are usually attributed to the air element. He might also have sword, because it is often felt that to be prudent you should have a sword when doing evocations. With the wand or the sword it is believed that you can order spirits to obey you.

An evocation is the calling up of a demon or djinn (the Arabic form of our word, "genie."). The term evocation is used to distinguish it from the other common ceremonial magic practice called invocation. In magic, invocation is calling upon a higher being than yourself, such as an angel or god. Believe it or not, there are magical workbooks that involve calling upon archangels and angels and forcing them to obey you. Of course, a good angel could not be commanded by sorcery.[9] It therefore stands to reason that such angels would be fallen and evil. Evocation is used to call on lower-than-human beings such as demons or elementals.[10]

The actual ceremony (aside from preparation) can take a long time. The wizard summons the spirit into this "triangle of manifestation." This is a triangle painted or inscribed on the floor about a meter on each side. This is the evocation. There will be lots of incense burnt, partially because this is believed to give the spirit some sort of material basis with which to materialize. The goal is to actually get the demon to appear visibly in the triangle, but in a form that is not too disturbing to the wizard’s sensibilities.

Bargains with the Demon?
Once the demon has manifested, the wizard will have some sort of talisman (which could be a medallion or a piece of parchment with writing on it) with which to bind the demon to their will. The demon will not want to obey, so there is usually a long period of threatening the demon, brandishing the sword at it and uttering horrid maledictions if it will not obey. The demon will also try to escape or trick the wizard into leaving the circle. If the wizard should step out of the circle during this time, the demon would have the right to crush him to a pulp and carry him off to hell (or somewhere like the abyss [11]). Another thing that could occur is that if the wizard accidentally does something to disturb the integrity of the circle (scuffing off some of the chalk or sulfur, etc.) then the demon could do whatever it wanted to him.

It may take several hours, but finally the demon will grant the wizard’s demands.[12] This may involve simply bestowing the power of flight on the wizard, or charging him a talisman with powers of flight so that as long as he wears it, he can fly. Then the demon is released to return to its place with the final adjuration that it promises to do nothing to ever harm the wizard once he banishes the circle. Demons are supposed to keep their word (??).

This is all based on an elaborate set of rubrics that, in my experience, the demon or spirit frequently will just ignore and rip the wizard to shreds. Most wizards really believe that these rules (such as the circle) will keep the demon at bay. Sometimes the demons will allow the wizard to luxuriate in this delusion for some time before finally lowering the boom. This is why most REAL wizards I have known have come upon bad ends. VERY bad ends.

Step into the Abyss
What follows is an actual account of a ceremonial magic rite that went very wrong. The magician had set up his circle in the garage after painting all the windows over with black paint. He done all of the ceremonies described earlier and had called up a demon into the triangle. The garage was filled with the smell of incense and the howling of the demon. It was not happy at being confined to the triangle.

After almost four hours of cursing and adjurations back and forth between the wizard and the demon, the room had grown very dark. There was no light left but the candles and the lurid coals of incense. The very chalk lines on the floor marking the circle and triangle seemed to shimmer in the gloom. The demon seemed just about to buckle to the will of the magician. Then, all of a sudden, the telephone rang!

Without thinking, the magician reached out of the circle to answer it. With a horrid scream, his entire body disappeared in a belch of flame, along with the demon. In a second, the garage was empty of all but the faithful, terrified scribe sitting in the corner and the smell of roasting human flesh. The magician was never heard from again, and left behind a wife and child. The ultimate irony of that tragedy is that there was no phone in the garage!

A Deadly Game
This illustrates how demons will NOT play by the rules, and how deadly magic can actually be. A magician would say that this unfortunate fellow had been sucked into the abyss forever. A more Biblical suggestion would be that he was sent to hell for his blasphemy. Most magicians ultimately think that they can become God. At the very least, they believe they can acquire god-like powers.

This horror is the "back story" behind cute little Harry. True wizardry or sorcery would not really allow him to have much fun at all without going through the above rituals. This is what Harry would have to learn at his wizard’s academy, Hogwart’s. Here is where the "mechanical magic" concept comes in. People like Mr. Colson want to tell us that none of this applies because Harry was BORN a wizard. His parents were magicians. Therefore, he comes by his talents naturally. He is a natural born wizard.

There is a bit of truth in this. In real life, if Harry’s parents were really magicians or wizards, they would be demonized to their eyeballs. They would have more demons than a cheap hotel has roaches. Because of Exodus 20:5-6[13], those demons would pass into baby Harry at birth. He would indeed grow up with a (super)natural propensity for sorcery. However, instead of having to conjure up all these different demons with their different powers, he would have them right within him from birth. It is "convenient," but it is not something I would want MY child to desire.

In fact, we have ministered to several people who were born into just such a background and who were horribly tormented by demons simply because they didn’t particularly WANT to get involved in sorcery and all the nasty things than can ultimately be expected in such pursuits. Only the power of Jesus could set such people free.

The fact of the matter is, there is no such thing as "mechanical magic" in the sense that I believe Mr. Colson is using the term. It cannot be just a plot device because magick, by definition involves a spiritual component. Unlike ray guns or time machines, magick brings with it a philosophical or even theological worldview. You could be a Christian, a Jew or a Buddhist and fly a rocket ship. The same could not be said of magick.

You are What You Eat!
To return to the point about the difference between magick and witchcraft, magick is essentially agnostic. The true goal of every wizard is to become his own god. There is no room in world-view of a sorcerer for a sovereign God. This magic world-view[14] sees the universe as a machine that dispenses favors to magicians in response to their performing the right ritual.

It is opposed to the Biblical world-view in which there is an all-powerful, sovereign God that we cannot manipulate with charms. This God is a Person, not a machine or an impersonal force. In the Biblical world-view, we pray to God and if He feels our request is in His will, then he grants it.

This is a major concern of mine in seeing these kids devouring Harry Potter books. Whether or not they grow up to be sorcerers, they are immersing themselves in the magic world-view that does not fit with the Bible. You cannot be your own god and also worship the one, true God. This is why these books are more dangerous than they appear. You are what you eat, intellectually and spiritually.

If you consume books like Harry Potter that promote a magical view of the universe, you will come to believe in those things - gradually. This change in beliefs will be very subtle. It will seep into your mind like smoke and before you know it, it will become a part of your mindset.

On top of that, many media report that children are not just reading the Potter books, they are re-reading over and over again! They do this because they are entertaining, but also because they find this world of sorcerers and magic beguiling and charming (both words rooted in magic) and because they IDENTIFY with the wizards. This is eerily like Christians who read and re-read the Bible, except of course they are digesting the very Words of God.

The Harry Potter books, in common with most horror and fantasy material, present a godless universe, one in which the most powerful wizard wins. They are books in which the hero is a wizard who shows no evidence of belief in God and does not use the power of prayer to combat evil. This is NOT the vision of the universe that a Christian parent should wish to instill in their child — nor is "white" magic an appropriate response to evil. John Andrew Murray, a Christian headmaster of a school in Raleigh, NC, has observed in USA TODAY that the Potter books contain no evidence of a "higher moral authority."[15] This creates a very morally confusing universe for young readers.

Some might object that the Hardy Boys, Superman or other juvenile heroes of old never prayed either. But the difference is that they did not use the devil’s tools (ceremonial magic, necromancy, etc.) to fight evil. Most of those heroes fought evil with physical might or intelligence (however, superhuman they might have been). Theirs was not primarily a spiritual battle. Harry’s battles are spiritual in nature, whether the author or the reader acknowledges it or not. In using sorcery, he is fighting fire by pouring gasoline on it!

Crucial Differences
Some people have said, "What is the difference between these books and the fantasy works of C.S. Lewis (the Narnia books) or J.R.R. Tolkien?" Well, three differences really. First of all, Lewis was a Christian, although he was not really the kind of Christian most evangelicals or fundamentalists would approve of. Tolkien was a devout Catholic. Whatever you might feel about Catholicism, both of these authors come from a strong Judeo-Christian background and there is a moral component in both their works, even though they are fantasy.[16] Fantasy, per se, is not bad. It is only bad if it promotes a godless or "might makes right" view of the world.

The second difference is that our culture and our world have changed enormously since the days of Tolkien and Lewis. Currently, our youth are awash in a culture that promotes evil, occultism, lust and power for its own sake. The magic world-view is all around them. It is promoted in Pokemon, in television, movies and music. More critical, it is often promoted in classrooms. Think about it, we now have several major TV shows where the heroes are witches. We even have one now called "Angel" (of all things) where the (anti) hero is a vampire!

Our young people swim in a miasma of spiritual filth that they cannot even perceive anymore. Often, God has been driven from their lives and been replaced with the ethos of power, violence and self-indulgence - in short, Satanism. In the 1950’s and 1960’s such ideas were rare enough that children could afford being exposed to fantasy stories which promoted magic. It was an uncommon thing. Today, they are already on toxic spiritual overload just from living in our society. It is a miracle if any young person can keep their faith. Those who do are to be enormously commended.

Spiritual Lust?
This is the difference. The morals presented in the Potter books are anti-God and anti-Christian. More importantly, the lifestyle of magick is presented as fun. Few kids would find magick so appealing if they knew they had to grapple with a hideous demon to acquire it; and even then have a good chance of being slaughtered before the end of the ritual.

Not only that, the books are definitely drawing kids towards witchcraft. "Who wouldn’t choose a wizard’s life?" asked TIME magazine.[17] Even authentic, real Wiccans are "charmed" by the Potter series, according to the Associated Press.[18] Anything that witches find good and charming certainly ought to be viewed with suspicion by serious Christians.

This brings us to the third difference. The HP books are filled with much more explicit, appalling evil. There is a huge difference between what went on in Lewis or Tolkien and what kids are reading about in Harry Potter.

Just as a small sample, imagine a ten-year-old reading about:

1) The animal sacrifice of a cat[19]
2) Non-magicians like you and I (Muggles) are portrayed as dull, boring, cruel or useless;[20]
3) Power is the ultimate moral choice, irrespective of good or evil;[21]
4) Blood sacrifices;[22]
5) Cutting off the hand of a living person for a ritual;[23]
6) Boiling what seems to be a baby or fetus alive in a cauldron;[24]
7) Possible demon possession;[25]
8) Werewolves [26] & vampires [27]
9) Bringing a evil wizard back from the dead through the shedding of blood [28]
10) Astral project or travel [29]
11) Casting spells and levitation [30]
12) Being able to shape-shift into an animal [31]
13) Crystal gazing or divination [32]
14) A hero (Harry) who tells lies, [33] steals, [34] breaks the rules,[35] and cheats by copying another student’s homework,[36] (cheating is OK in wizard ethics[37]).
15) Approval of astrology[38]
16) Being taught that people can exist without their souls[39]
17) Communion with the dead, dead souls living within us[40]
18) Harry takes mood-altering drugs (which are REAL herbs that are used by witches and shamans)[41]
19) Use of the "Hand of Glory,"[42] a grisly occult artifact that is the severed hand of a hanged murderer. Its fingers are lit and burned as candles. The hand is placed in a house to make everyone in the house fall into a spell.
20) Use of magic charms[43]
21) Belief that death is just the "next great adventure"[44] (which might be true if you were a Christian, but no one in these books is a professing Christian.) For non-Christians like Harry, death is a one-way ticket to hell! These are dangerous, false ideas, especially for a younger person. Little attempt is being made to keep these books from the hands of children even younger than ten!

Additionally, there is a strong anti-family strain in the Potter books. As was mentioned earlier, Harry’s biological parents were murdered. Other than them, the only biological family he has are horrible. Harry’s uncle, aunt and cousin, with whom he lives, are mean, selfish and unloving. They are "Muggles" (non-sorcerers) who make Harry’s life miserable for his beliefs and even make him sleep in a closet!

Harry’s witchy friends are made to appear very appealing next to these loutish family members, who could be seen as caricatures of "fundamentalist" Christians. The ordinary human adults of his family are seen as stupid and powerless, while the witches and warlocks are wise and powerful. What sort of message does this send to children about their relatives who might not live lives as fascinating as that portrayed in the books?

Some of the Christians who defend HP books claim that one could never learn enough to truly practice magick or sorcery by reading them. That sort of statement could only be made by someone who was comparatively ignorant of sorcery. As a former magician myself, I can say that an intelligent child could learn a great deal of authentic magical material.

More important than that - these books enflame what C. S. Lewis called a "spiritual lust" for occult knowledge and power. They tickle the desire to become "little gods" and fill the child’s head with violence, blood sacrifice and a world view which is decidedly anti-Christian. Is this desirable? Especially when the books are so well-written that the children are reading them over and over and virtually memorizing them?

A Harry Potter movie is coming out, and will probably be accompanied by all the usual Hollywood marketing (Harry Potter Happy Meals, etc.). There are already calendars, action figures, etc. If the books are any indication, this could be a cultural phenomenon that will make STAR WARS look insignificant by comparison! Parents need to be aware of how dangerous the materials in these books are, and stand their ground courageously for the love of their children!


1 Chuck Colson, 11/2/1999 Breakpoint radio broadcast.
2 Lycanthropy is an old and honored element within the disciplines of magic and sorcery. The werewolf is the best known example of lycanthopy, but there are others. Most third world cultures which practice shamanism have practitioners who endeavor (and sometimes succeed) in shape-shifting themselves into animals — bear, wolves, ravens, etc.
4 ibid., p. 1767
5 Grimoires are magical workbooks, often hundreds of years old. They range from the relatively civilized like the SACRED MAGIC OF ABRA MELIN THE MAGE to the nasty ones like THE BLACK PULLET.
6 A fictional game resembling polo played on flying broomsticks.
7 Most magicians in the West have four elements of Air, Fire, Water and Earth.
8 This is NOT the same as a Wiccan circle. The point of the Wiccan circle is to keep power IN. The point of the magick circle is to keep things OUT.
9 Hebr. 1:14 indicates that angels can be asked to serve by those who only those who are "heirs of salvation" — i.e. Christians.
10 Elementals are believed to be nature spirits related to the four elements. An air elemental would be a sylph.
11 The abyss is a concept in ceremonial magick. It is a place between two spheres on the Tree of Life over which you must cross to become a "godlike being." If you fail, you fall into the abyss that is described as a place of annihilation or a place of mindless horror and darkness. In either case, the magician’s soul is believed to be utterly destroyed forever.
12 Actually, there is a fair amount of resemblance between a typical magical ceremony like this and the lengthy and arduous Roman Catholic rite of exorcism.
13 This is the Biblical passage where we are told the sins of the fathers are visited unto the children. This is especially true of idolatry.
14 See Straight Talk on Witnessing to the Occultist, Witch and New Ager, etc. available from our ministry.
15 "Latest ‘Harry Potter’ Book meets with Cautionary Response from Christians" by Art Toalston, Baptist Press, 7/13/2000.
16 There are Christians who would object to the orthodoxy of Lewis and Tolkien. Neither man was exactly a fundamentalist Christian. Lewis was an Anglican, although much of his theological writings indicate a strong evangelical point of view. This booklet is not the place to enter into a debate over C.S. Lewis’ theology. Suffice it to say that, as benign as his works were, the Harry Potter stories are much, much worse.
17 TIME, 9/20/1999.
18 "Potter Charms Modern-Day Witches" by Deepti Hajela, AP 1/30/2000.
19 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, p. 139.
20 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, p. 33.
21 Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, p. 291.
22 Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, p. 656.
23 Ibid. p. 641.
24 Goblet of Fire, p.666. Careful reading of this passage does reveal that the fetus-like creature which is thrown into the cauldron is actually Lord Voldemort. However, many younger children may not get this point (we didn't at first) and it is still an extremely disturbing image.
25 Goblet of Fire, p. 653-54.
26 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, p. p.345, 381.
27 Ibid., p.147.
28 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, p. 463.
29 Ibid., pp. 667-669.
30 Ibid., pp. 344-45.
31 Ibid., p. 534.
32 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, p. 297
33 Sorcerer’s Stone, p. 292.
34 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, p. 165.
35 Prisoner of Azkaban, p.31.
36 Ibid., p. 146.
37 Goblet of Fire, p. 343.
38 Sorcerer’s Stone , p. 257.
39 Prisoner of Azkaban, p. 247.
40 Ibid., 427-428
41 Sorcerer’s Stone , p. 137, 286-87.
42 Prisoner of Azkaban, p. 52.
43 Ibid., p.118, 188.
44 Sorcerer’s Stone , p. 302.
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