Harry Potter

Question for reporters and preachers: Is there a God-shaped hole in the Avengers universe?

Question for reporters and preachers: Is there a God-shaped hole in the Avengers universe?

It was Christmas Eve as Harry Potter and his best friend Hermione Granger arrived in the town of Godric's Hollow, searching through the snowy church graveyard for the graves of the teen wizard’s parents, Lily and James Potter.

Here’s how the scene is depicted in the final novel — “"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" — of J.K. Rowling’s seven-volume set. Christmas carols are drifting out of the church when the duo discovers the tombstone for the family of the late Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore. The inscription is from the Gospel of St. Matthew: "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

That’s just the start of the faith content in the Potter-verse rooted in the author’s worldview. Hang in there with me, because this is going to link up with this week’s “Crossroads” podcast (click here to tune that in) and the national column that I wrote about the God-shaped hole in “Avengers: Endgame.”

Now, about the Potter family tombstone: In a 2007 “On Religion” column on this topic, I noted:

… The Potter headstone proclaimed: "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death."

Harry was mystified. Was this about defeating the evil Death Eaters?

"It doesn't mean defeating death in the way the Death Eaters mean it, Harry," said Hermione, gently. "It means ... you know ... living beyond death. Living after death."

This is another Bible verse — one that Rowling said stated the theme at the heart of her Potter series. It also helps to know that the Harry Potter stories grew out of the author’s grief after the death of her mother. Rowling wanted to make a statement that death is not the end.

It also matters that Rowling has been upfront about the fact that she is active in the Scottish Episcopal Church and, based on her remarks through the years, it’s pretty clear that she is on the left side of Anglicanism. Her academic background in classics (and love of Medieval Catholic symbolism) also shaped the Potter-verse.

So what is the context of the verse on that Potter headstone?

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'Harry Potter and the Sacred Texts' coverage shed some light, but few real questions

'Harry Potter and the Sacred Texts' coverage shed some light, but few real questions

Years ago, I profiled the executive director of the Sixth & I Synagogue in Washington DC; one of the most eclectic houses of worship I’ve ever run into. Half of the stuff I encountered there hardly -- IMHO -- belonged at a synagogue (Yoga shabbats? Rock concerts? Political panels?) but the place was packing these events out week after week.

Which is why I’m not surprised that Sixth & I hosted the taping of a podcast known as “Harry Potter and the Sacred Text,” a creation of two Harvard professors that’s become quite the rage in the past year. You thought Harry Potter was just an unbelievably clever series of children’s books?

Think again. Last year, your GetReligionistas look at the Boston Globe’s shallow coverage of these two professors and their work. But now that a major Potter anniversary is here, more publications have gone searching for a higher meaning in words penned by J.K. Rowling.

Here’s the top of the Washington Post's recent piece:

Mark Kennedy grew up a Catholic, and a Harry Potter fanatic. Only one stuck.
“I considered myself a non-spiritual person,” he said. He thought he was done with religion. And then he stumbled on the podcast “Harry Potter and the Sacred Text.”
The podcast told him that the Harry Potter series -- the books that he always turned to for solace when he was angry or stressed or in need of an escape -- could be a source of spiritual sustenance.
“I feel like I’m born again,” he said.
On Tuesday night, Kennedy came to an event space at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in the District with hundreds of fellow fans of the podcast, who have found a surprising spirituality in the magical fiction series, which turns 20 years old this year.
Hosted by Harvard Divinity School graduates Casper ter Kuile and Vanessa Zoltan, the podcast “Harry Potter and the Sacred Text” became the number-two podcast in America on iTunes soon after it debuted last summer. It has inspired face-to-face Potter text reading groups, akin to Bible study more than book club, in cities across the country. In Harvard Square, ter Kuile and Zoltan host a weekly church-like service for the secular focused on a Potter text’s meaning.

Call this higher criticism with a twist.

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Have others asked WWHPD? Harry Potter and the Harvard Humanist phenomenon

Have others asked WWHPD? Harry Potter and the Harvard Humanist phenomenon

Once more, into the Harry Potter religion debates!

But first, a word from long ago, care of one of the featured speakers at Nimbus 2003 in Orlando, the first global convention dedicated to academic (and semi-academic) studies of the canonical texts of J.K. Rowling. Yes, I was there, with a notepad and my marked-up copies of a Potter text, or two.

The speaker was Lee Hillman of Rochester, N.Y., a pagan believer known as "Gwendolyn Grace, Minister of Magic" to the throng of 600 gathered at Disney’s Swan Hotel. She was dressed in a spectacular purple witch’s robe and hat. Let us attend:

"There is no relationship set up in the Harry Potter books between magic and religion," said Hillman. … "This had to be a deliberate decision by J.K. Rowling. ... She is using literary conceits drawn from throughout Western culture."
She scanned the crowd at a panel discussion last weekend entitled "Harry Potter: Witchcraft? Pagan Perspectives." ...
"There is nothing in these books that relates magic to any particular religion," said Hillman. "There is no connection. None. None. Zero. ... They are not really about witchcraft."

Ah, but what are the books about? All kinds of people have found all kinds of messages in these books in the past and that phenomenon, clearly, is continuing. I say that because of an interesting Boston Globe news feature that ran the other day under the head, “Could Harry Potter become a spiritual leader?

Could? Is there any question that many people have already treated Rowling’s work as semi-holy? The key to this story shows up really early on:

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Native Americans: Thumbs down on J.K. Rowling's use of American witchcraft icons

Native Americans: Thumbs down on J.K. Rowling's use of American witchcraft icons

It had to happen sooner or later: Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling has crossed the pond and found a massive new set of sorcery traditions to garnish her output for her Potter prequel movie. The only problem: She uses symbols and names from American history and Indian sources. Things like Navajo myths and the Salem witch trials of the 1690s.

The Guardian (UK) is already onto this new movie "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" if you want news about that, but the mere idea of transmitting the world of Potter onto American soil is getting ridiculed by some

Whereas some folks would be more than glad for the world's richest author to toss some PR toward neglected tribal shamans this side of the Atlantic, not everyone is thrilled. Here's how the Los Angeles Times described the matter:

While some American "Harry Potter" fans were ecstatic over J.K. Rowling's new writing about "the history of magic in North America," her story has angered some Native Americans.

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