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Several weeks have now passed since July, when the seventh and last Harry Potter book was published in English, amid the now customary media hype.

As usual, there have been people, often academics, who have read the book as a metaphorical fairy-tale or a piece of literature and liked it. Some of them have interpreted the story as a spiritual metaphor for the Christian struggle against evil, ‘the deathly hallows’ being a token of the Resurrection, ‘magic’ being a metaphor for faith. As usual, there have been those, sometimes not so well-educated, who have been unable to see any Christian symbolism in it, considering it a spiritually dangerous book, which leads to an obsession with the occult and the demonic. Who is right? Why is there such a variety of opinions, division and controversy about Harry Potter?

The problem with Potter does not come from Potter itself, it comes from Pottermania, i.e. the popular obsession, fed by the media and merchandising operations, which love to manipulate the crowd, like so many ‘muggles’. Just as, a few years ago, the media artificially created the idolatry around the tragic figure of Lady Diana, so they have also created the idolatry around Harry Potter. This problem does not come from the books themselves, it comes from the secularist society in which we live.

This society, which has lost its faith, is satisfied with any fanatical cult, for a pop ‘star’, a football team, Star Wars, or whatever the fad of the moment may be. Any such cult is good enough to replace faith. Yesterday it was Lady Diana, today it is Harry Potter, tomorrow, we fear, it will be something even worse. The power of the media over the masses is, we repeat, not the fault of Potter, it is a problem of contemporary secularism. Harry Potter is not the cause, it is a result and a sign of the times. And alas, one of many such signs.

This media manipulation has caused a secondary problem, literalism. This is that there are many who do not read Harry Potter as a simple tale, as a piece of escapism from the daily grind, they enter into it literally. It is this spirit of literalism which has further developed in them an unhealthy obsession. Thus, it is indeed disturbing to see children dressed as witches and wizards, and books of 'magic' and 'spells' on sale. Some actually appear to believe in this escapist fantasy, making a religion out of Harry Potter.

Little wonder that in turn such literalism creates a reaction among those who consider Harry Potter spiritually dangerous and are tempted to begin a witch-hunt after J.K. Rowling. The fact is that Harry Potter books are spiritually dangerous – but only for those whose souls are so empty that they take it all seriously. Again, this is not the direct fault of Harry Potter, it is the contemporary spiritual vacuum which has made the Potter books, with their humour, fantasy and also portrayal of evil powers, into an idolatrous cult. J.K. Rowling is not the cause, but merely the reflection, of the problem.

And the problem is that contemporary secularism, with its uncritical and half-baked thinking and the tremendous power given to it by its control over the media, is manipulating the masses. Thus, although the Potter books are about the struggle between good and evil, this struggle is not carried out by spiritual combat, but by magic. Herein lies all the danger. A world without any concept of faith, spiritual reality, ascetic effort, self-sacrifice, believes that problems can actually be solved 'magically' – just as Harry Potter solves problems with a Latin incantation and a wave of his wand. In the absence of any obvious Christian realities in the Potter books, Harry Potter can provide no moral values, no ethical standards. He can provide only moral apathy, only 'magic', a modern superstition, the mysterious fusion of the real with the virtual. And we know that demons do indeed perform 'magic', by deluding the simple with their cheap spiritual illusions and conjuring tricks.

The problem with Potter is concentrated in Hogwarts, the clearly Gothic, Latin, medieval institution that opened its doors a thousand years ago. In other words, Hogwarts, with its ghosts and spirits, symbolizes the whole of Western society, Western 'civilization'. This is the concept that human-beings can build their lives without Christ, that is, by 'magic', whether by the illusions of medieval alchemy or by those of modern technology. This is 'the Western project', the great humanist illusion, the spiritual danger. In reality, we cannot 'study' the Holy Spirit, as the pupils of Hogwarts study 'magic'. In reality, we cannot fight evil with 'magic', that is fight evil with evil. Evil can only be fought with good, and that means Christ and the Cross, ascetic labour and sacrifice inspired by the Holy Spirit.

To imagine otherwise is to accept the essence of the Western illusion, the anti-ascetic understanding of faith, the humanist aim of creating an earthly, secular Paradise, without the Heavenly but Incarnate Christ. Harry Potter belongs to one of the last parts of the millennium-long downward spiral of illusion of the Western world. For these novels lack any obvious symbols of the Christian heritage of the ancient Western world. Reflecting the society and age in which they were written, they are among the first-fruits of an unChristian and anti-Christian Western world. Here is the essential Western illusion that Paradise can be built on earth, whether through scholastic philosophy, Renaissance knowledge, individual works, scientific observation, industrial expansion, or, as at present, the 'magic' of global technology and its computer 'wizardry'.

This is what is sinister and why the Harry Potter books have come under such vigorous attack in Orthodox Eastern Europe. There, from 1917 or 1945 on, they already experienced the bottom of the anti-Christian spiral. Now they are trying to return from it, slowly trying to spiral upwards and restore spiritual and moral values. There, they know what is at the bottom of the Western spiral. They do not want to return to it or see others falling headlong into it, as the Western world now is. And although Harry Potter is merely a symptom of the downward spiral, and not the cause, nevertheless, it is a catalyst. The Western world would do well to heed the warning of the East.

Whatever we may think of Harry Potter, there is worse to come in the coming months and years. This will begin this Christmas with the release of the first film based on the trilogy of books by Philip Pullman. He is an atheist novelist, the avowed humanist and secularist grandson of an Anglican clergyman, who calls on his heroes to kill God. This they do and so Pullman is enabled to declare that God is dead. Thus, we now seem to be witnessing the final demise of a civilization, of which Harry Potter is merely a sign and a symbol. We are profoundly pessimistic about the chances that the Western world will listen to the sombre warnings of those who long ago reached the 'Paradise', the hell to which the good intentions of Western rationalist logic brought them in 1917 and 1945.

Nevertheless, we warn you yet again: Magic does not work. There are in reality only two forces. One is the Holy Spirit, Whom you can accept only as the Gospel says and the Universal Councils of the Church accepted, 'proceeding from the Father' and 'guiding you into all truth'. The other is the demons' blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, for which there is no forgiveness. We must all choose, and choose carefully, which force we accept, ordering our lives accordingly.

Fr Andrew

22 August/4 September
Holy Martyr Eulalia of Barcelona, slain by the Pagans (304)
Hieromartyr John (Vostorgov), slain by the Communists (1918)
Hieromartyr Gorazd of Prague, slain by the Nazis (1942)

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