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WHAT ABOUT HARRY POTTER:

IS HE OR WILL HE REMAIN SIGNIFICANT? A SPIRITUAL SCIENTIFIC PERSPECTIVE

PART I: ANSWERING THE MORAL QUESTIONS

by Bill Trusiewicz

 

Twenty five years ago this year, in 1990, on a delayed train between Manchester and King's Cross Railroad Station, in London, a young woman named Joanne Rowling gave birth to the story of Harry Potter, a story that she claims "came fully formed" [1] into her thoughts. By June 1997, after seven years of working on the series and finding a publisher, Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone, the first of a seven-book series, began to appear in British bookstores and shortly thereafter in bookstores in the United States. [2]

Since then, the Harry Potter series is estimated to have taken first place amongst all-time best-selling book series' written with more than 450 million sales to date. The Philosopher's Stone alone has sold 107 million copies, and taken fourth place among the most popular single books ever written, behind the classics: Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities; Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings; and Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince. [3] In addition, the last in the series, entitled Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is reported to have sold 11 million copies in the United States and the United Kingdom alone within 24 hours of its release. The series has been translated into 70 different languages.

As many of us will have heard much of this before, nevertheless, the question remains: what is behind such immense popularity and - is it significant? What is it that makes young and old alike keep turning the pages of Harry Potter?

Critical commentaries have much to say on the series as a work of literature, some of which is laudatory and some of which is not. But we will not be concerned here with the literary value attributed to the Potter series by today's critics. The Harry Potter stories have become a part of world culture and they will undoubtedly remain popular alongside other classics for years to come.

Our consideration in this and subsequent articles will be with its value as a vehicle for spiritual truth as it might mirror the deeper springs of spiritual scientific tenets, the springs that have given birth to Anthroposophical spiritual science, for instance. In the process, and in this article, we will be seeking to provide answers to the moral criticisms, which have been many, and which naturally arise in anyone who may be wary of the "witch and wizard" world that forms the backdrop for the Potter series.

While we will explore the question of the value of the Harry Potter series as a vehicle for spiritual truth, this article will only partly answer our first question about Harry Potter: Is he or will he remain significant? What we will be presenting here is aimed at laying a foundation for further explorations that will seek to answer this question more fully. Future articles will include: Part II, Harry Potter and the Path of Initiation; and one or more subsequent studies in which we will explore the Rosicrucian and Grail streams as they are reflected in the stories to provide a broader basis for evaluating the significance of the seven books in the series.

We may or may not be aware of the fact that more than a few advocates of spiritual science have devoted their attention in writing or lecturing to the seven Harry Potter books [4], leaving us with the impression that there may be more to Harry Potter than we might ordinarily imagine, more in fact than the author herself indicated in her early statements on the series, in which she claimed no esoteric, spiritual or religious influences. [5]

In an article that appeared in New View magazine (Winter 2008/9) [6] publisher and author, Michael Frensch [7], presented, and convincingly supported, a surprising correlation between the seven Harry Potter books and the seven-fold nature of the human being while suggesting in an afterword that the stories were received from higher worlds. Another advocate of spiritual science, Frans Lutters, a Waldorf Teacher, author of several books, and head of the Pedagogical Section of the School of Spiritual Science of the Anthroposophical Society (in Holland), has written a book called Who is Harry Potter? , in which he probes the inspiration behind Harry Potter, exploring the idea that the books are a "revelation of a reality that is taking place in our time." Several other Anthroposophists have devoted studies and lecture series to this subject, seeing in it a fruitful ground for esoteric spiritual considerations.

In the Potter series, much like in the other most popular books cited, one confronts an intensified humanity in its characters, which points to the universal human being. But more notably, the Harry Potter story is significant from a spiritual scientific perspective, which makes it all the more important in the Michaelic age [8] in which we live and therefore significant from a larger perspective as a contribution to world culture.

The fact that the books (and movies) were so successful with the public may itself be a reason to question their validity. Those of us who study esoteric matters attentive to the necessity for moral purity are understandably skeptical of a great deal of popular culture. We are aware that it would be easy to disavow everything that is popular; thinking that it must be based on what is often referred to as a "lowest common denominator" attraction. The sorts of sensory excitements that have instant appeal to our lower instincts sell well; they are guaranteed to be successful in the marketplace, or so the pundits say, and it is not difficult to believe.

If such thoughts as these raise our growing skepticism of modern popular culture we should remind ourselves that the abstract populace, which we are tempted to judge, is heroic at its core when reduced to the real men and women we meet everyday who are survivors of the great challenge that is Life; who still live in search of meaning and love despite the tragedy and all-too-pervasive injustice that is unavoidable on this planet. Isn't this what the German Romantic poet and polymath, Novalis, one of the greatest inspirers of spiritual science, was pointing to with the words: "Might there not be something to be said for the everyday person, who has recently been so much abused? Does not persistent mediocrity demand the most strength? And is the human being to be more than one of the popolo [populace]? " [9] (insertion mine) Such words as these are comforting, imbued as they are with that warmth and faith in the human being that is generally so lacking in our intellectual, critical-thinking world. Such warm humility, out of which Novalis speaks, ought always to accompany our efforts to climb the pinnacle of clear thinking, the goal towards which we strive as faithful students of spiritual science.

Such humanness is akin to the love that, through the Foundation Stone, Rudolf Steiner sought to plant in the hearts of the members of the Anthroposophical community [10] to assure that our building efforts as a society continue in the right way. He meant that our efforts should always be motivated by the adamantine "Foundation Stone of Love," by which we must gauge our alignment with his original, pure motive for community building. While in various ways this "foundation stone of love" inspires the Harry Potter series, which we will attempt to demonstrate in future studies [11], we cannot fail to notice that what J. K. Rowling created was also an enormously captivating and entertaining story that fires our imaginations?

Another captivating story that has not escaped our attention was the ultra-popular DaVinci Code by Dan Brown. This story was created with valuable, esoteric facts woven-together with fantastic misinformation to fabricate a fascinating and compelling story that epitomizes the materialistic perspective of spiritual things. Dan Brown took a husk of genuine mystery wisdom, a materialistic mind-set and clever storytelling to capture an audience for his book, cashing in on people's gullibility while dragging the sublime "into the gutter," as the saying goes. Is Harry Potter also a phenomenon that appeals to our culture out of some similar low motive: a universal wanton instinct for invincibility, for dominance, or for occult powers perhaps, as some have intimated? [12] Or is its appeal deeper than its ostensibly Wiccan nature, being addressed to a deeper moral impulse, a natural instinct for truth and reality that transcends the superficiality that is characteristic of modern moralistic religious treatments of spirituality, striking at a deeper moral mythological foundation?

The greater segment of official Christendom, the Catholic clergy, and their Protestant counterparts, have roundly condemned the books. More significant, perhaps, is that most of the down-to-earth laity who don't live in theological ivory towers and who are not bound by rigid religious tenets, do not feel the sting of their conscience reading the Harry Potter stories or seeing the movies; actually quite the contrary: they see a moral hero the likes of whom their children do not see in today's media. The official church, on the other hand, sees in Harry Potter a capitulation to witchcraft-a surrender to what is condemned outright in the Old and New Testaments. It is notable that Bible verses condemning witchcraft, mediumistic activity, divination, and sorcery are quite numerous. As students of spiritual science we do not identify ourselves with any religion or denomination even though we may participate in a religious group, but we are aware of the dangers and inadvisability of being involved with these practices. Rudolf Steiner could not have been clearer about it, while the spiritual scientific community has largely followed Steiner's advice. Should we then also condemn the Harry Potter books because they ostensibly portray such things?

To answer this question we must take into account the fact that we live in a time in which language functions quite differently from the way it did in the past. We possess faculties today that were not present in earlier times and we have sacrificed abilities that our ancient predecessors possessed. Abstract thinking has developed slowly since the Golden Age of Greece, more than two millennia ago, not long before and after the Old and New Testaments were written and compiled-the scriptures we mentioned earlier, which condemn witchcraft and sorcery. We must be alert to the results of these changes in consciousness, which have multiplied exponentially in recent times. We can fairly calculate the degree to which abstract thinking has taken hold in our culture by paralleling it with the extraordinary development of the natural sciences and technology.

It was not possible in ancient times to do with words what we do today quite naturally. In the modern world, to discern good from evil we must dig deeper than language because words are much further removed from their original meanings than ever before due to modern abstract thinking capacities, and are therefore able to be used more freely and with much more flexibility-for good or ill. Our concepts and word pictures have followed a similar course of development: they can be manipulated contextually to present a picture that is deceptive, hiding rather than presenting the truth. It would therefore not be altogether unfair to suggest that a Harry Potter series would be about as understandable two thousand years ago as, for instance, a commercial jet plane would have been that long ago-due to the development of abstract thinking. Two thousand years ago the Harry Potter story could be read or told word-for-word but its inner message would remain an enigma, an inscrutable puzzle [13], as it apparently still is today observing the conversation amongst Catholic clergy, fundamentalist Protestant Ministers and those who abide by such dialogue. The reasons for this assertion will become clearer as this article unfolds.

In the Magical world of Harry Potter, we encounter a world of materialist thinkers (the Muggle world), and a sorcerers' world: a subculture set apart, where imagination is set free from material constraints-a world to itself that has been invented with considerable humor, taking its cues from superstitious fantasy about witches and wizards with magic wands who fly around on broomsticks. To the modern person who is used to scientific thinking, the world of Harry Potter is a fantasy and an impossibility while providing a fertile ground for the imagination. As already mentioned, the ancient imagery of witches and wizards in the Potter series would have had a completely different effect on people hundreds of years ago, before the age of science and technology. For the modern young person or for the young at heart, spells and charms, for instance, as presented in the Potter books, amount to little more than fantasy or imaginal powers of mind.

Let us begin to add substance to this argument by taking an instructive glimpse at some magical arts that are taught to students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the setting where most of the action takes place in the books.

Hogwarts school is the training ground for Harry Potter and his companions to learn, among many other things: spells (verbal powers); transfigurations (the art of transforming objects into different shapes and forms); and disapparations (the art of transporting oneself and others to different locations - disappearing).

Two millennia ago the idea of such powers would have been taken very seriously. People were aware of an invisible world since they possessed a remnant of atavistic clairvoyance that brought the world of dreams into close proximity with normal sensory experience often causing confusion as to which was reality. Without a ground in modern scientific thought such as we take for granted today, the average person would have been much more susceptible to soul/spiritual influences since, at that time, human imaginations were much more lively and animated, while in the modern world our imaginations have been schooled continually by exercise in concrete, physically-based reasoning and are consequently dulled-down. Today, no one thinks that by simply speaking a mantric phrase (casting a spell) something will magically happen, although parents might sometimes wish that their everyday directive "mantric phrases" would work with their children. No one expects to be able to instantly disapparate (disappear), although we might wish we could - to escape an uncomfortable situation at times. No one believes that they can change one object into another, although we might wish, in a rare flight of thought, that our car would sprout wings or become sea-worthy-to arrive at a destination on time.

Magical abilities in Harry Potter simply introduce a humorous element of wishful thinking to modern materialistic thought.

Another magical art taught at Hogwarts is potions. Who today would actually consider making a potion like Hermione, (one of Harry's closest friends), using a hair from someone in a "polyjuice potion" so that they can impersonate, by become a "copy" of another person? Today we leave this sort of thing to the "wizardry" of scientists working with DNA and stem cells, for instance, to think of such things - or to pharmacological research.

To a modern person the "magical powers" portrayed in Harry Potter stories are not invitations to become a Wiccan, as some would have us believe; they are nothing more than a tongue-in-cheek, humorous reference to powers of mind and the possibilities of imagination and dreaming. This accounts for a good part of the intrigue of the "magical world"; it is one reason why the Harry Potter series is so popular with the young and the young at heart. It creates a scenario to free the reader from the usual materialistic mental constraints to new heights of imagination: to allow more dreaming and wishful thinking - essential aspects of a creative life that do not generally thrive beyond childhood in modern culture.

While presenting an often highly humorous and even childish picture of witchcraft and wizardry as a backdrop for creating a field for imaginative possibilities of mind, the author arguably presents a critique of witchcraft. With the class on Divination, for instance, the author pokes fun at the thought of the legitimacy of divination (seership or predicting the future). The divination teacher, Professor Sybil Trelawney, is presented as an ultra-sincere but misguided woman who is a bumbling mystic, and is respectfully despised by the most intelligent students at Hogwarts, chief among whom is Hermione, the intellect of the triumvirate of protagonists, who hated "divination class," while Harry and Ron (Harry's other close friend) could barely tolerate it, making it the brunt of many a joke.

With close examination one can see that this attitude pervades the whole mood of Hogwarts education. Stepping back from the "witchy" language of the story we can see what is arguably a critique of "witching and wizarding" rather than a promotion of it. A deeply critical attitude toward witchcraft is camouflaged by magical language, while using parody, caricature, and humor to speak an underlying message disparaging of witchcraft throughout the books.

On the other hand, those for whom the invisible world is a reality can understand what was discussed above, but see another level of interpretation - one that speaks to a different audience.

While modern scientific thinking leads us to the conclusion that the magical world of Harry Potter is a complete invention and impossible by any stretch of the imagination, spiritual scientific thinking, which has been freed from the tyranny of the physical, can hold the above view while also realizing that the world of spells and charms depicted in Harry Potter points to a world that truly exists hidden from ordinary vision and apart from any "magical" spells and charms - it is a real world. It is a world where thoughts and intentions, desires and dreams have spiritual substance that is analogous to the substance of the material world. J. K. Rowling's invention of the magical world of Harry Potter uses the same methodology that such authors as George MacDonald, C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien used, employing the power of myth, fantasy and fairy tale to speak a layered message adding the possibility to embed deeply spiritual propositions within the strata of that message.

It doesn't take much spiritual experience to know that thoughts and desires are soul forces that have a reality equally substantial on a soul and spirit level to the forces operative in the physical sense world. Our thoughts and desires have an effect on our environment and especially on people in our environment. So we could say that, spiritually speaking, we are in a sort of "magical" environment at all times. With spiritual vision we can see that without the use of a wand, we are mentally and emotionally in a situation not altogether dissimilar to Harry Potter and his friends, in which our thoughts, feelings, and will forces are directed outward from us towards an invisible shared inner world, and the soul forces of others are directed towards us. While the use of soul forces in Harry Potter's world are directed outwards towards material existence as a means of controlling that world, we in our turn, would be considered strange indeed and even mentally deranged if we acted the way the characters in the magical world of Harry Potter act. We don't expect the physical world to respond to our commands without us taking physical action to bring about a change. Yet we are aware through our study of spiritual science of the powers "of mind" that are germinating in humanity in our time, powers which during primeval times used to function in a manner not dissimilar to those in the Harry Potter stories.

Rudolf Steiner, the early twentieth century spiritual scientist, pointed to a time in the early Atlantean period when the human physiognomy was softer and more pliable, when it mirrored the inner activity of the human astral body, in which the movement of desires and impulses working outward through the medium of enlarged etheric bodies had a shaping effect on the physical form. Under these conditions human bodies mirrored inner dispositions and appetites of soul, which produced grotesque and sometimes gigantic figures. In Leonardo DaVinci's caricature head drawings of common people [14] we can see a faint reflection of the grotesque human forms of that time.

During this same period humanity also had powers to manipulate life forces by what we might call today "mental" means. The powers that Atlanteans possessed, nevertheless, were not wielded mentally so much as with feeling-will or directed astrality. This ancient faculty has been lost with the gradual shrinking of the etheric body to conform to the physical body and the development of abstract thinking capabilities.

Abraham, the Biblical figure and father of the Jewish nation, was one of the first exemplars of this condition of exact conformity of the etheric body to the physical head, out of which developed the ability to work in an exact way with measure, weight, and number, the elementary principles of our present day abstract thinking abilities. With this modern capacity humanity has gained a different kind of control over nature: the power of thinking and understanding the nature of the material world; the power by which we have gained technological wizardry, we might say. In the future, as our capacity for thinking deepens into living nature through a coupling of moral imagination and spiritual scientific thinking, which is the trajectory of human evolution, we will regain the capacities of early Atlanteans, or so to say, capacities similar to those depicted in Harry Potter's world. These future capacities are being exercised in us through simply living in a modern world with its cultural influences.

It is the goal of spiritual science to lead humanity toward an etheric constitution similar to what existed in Atlantean times - similar with respect to the size of the etheric body before the time of Abraham. But now and in the future our enlarged etheric bodies will be capable of illumination based on our own individual thoughts instead of the ancient wisdom that streamed into human etheric bodies as a gift of nature; it will be an etheric body that can be filled with the Christ force of universal individuality - something we ourselves co-create. This will eventually lead to an unprecedented ability to work with and control the forces of nature through Christ in us as the Lord of the Elements. It will also lead to two distinct races: one that remains behind, retaining atavistic astrality and thereby molding themselves into animalistic human forms [15]; and another Michaelic race that develops the noble, upright mien of the universal human being. [16]

Children, because they retain a connection to the spiritual world have a "memory" of the pre-fall condition of humanity which preceded Atlantean times, and during which humanity still possessed what we might call "divine powers," the ability to call things into being or to alter things at will. This, of course, was in a very different world than today, a world in which humanity shared the divine nature with the gods and exercised powers the likes of which we can only dream-in a world not yet solidified into rigid forms. In our scientific times, we might say that magic is only taken seriously by children or by the young at heart. But, in order to progress as students of spiritual science we all need "to become like little children" in respect to faith in what is possible through "powers of mind." We must be able to dream while fully awake. [17] It is largely toward this awakening of youthful forces in readers to which spiritually valuable and enduring literature addresses itself. Without youthful forces we stagnate in old ways. Only such forces can have a shaping effect on entrenched ideas and rigid cultural conventions. In fact Rudolf Steiner considered it one of the tasks of Anthroposophy to provide access to such youthful forces, which he said would "bring the world the rejuvenation which it needs." [18]

We are not altogether justified in saying that magic is only taken seriously by children. There has always been an element of humanity that has taken advantage of latent powers of soul to achieve their personal aims. There is what we might call a "technology" of magic that works with under-worldly powers using atavistic forces to achieve aims that are counter-evolutionary. Essentially, those who employ these dark forces achieve their aims through taking life from others (in one form or another), causing pain to others, and by enforcing their will upon others. We can call the work of dark forces tyranny whether that work is exercised by an individual or as a complex social force. Tyranny is a word that is etymologically related to "territory," "terrain" and "terror." It denotes the earthly: terrible, subterranean, or sub-earthly influences over humanity. The Harry Potter series draws attention to this in its depiction of Voldemort and his conspirators and seeks, with considerable success, to provide a remedy for it. Let us see how.

The Harry Potter story not only draws attention to this counter-evolutionary movement but also reveals something of the details of its evil character. This is in accord with what Rudolf Steiner said is vital for our present fifth cultural epoch, the epoch in which the mystery of evil must be unveiled. The mystery of evil in the Harry Potter books shows its three-fold head attacking the three-fold human being in three malevolent curses, the so-called "unforgivable" curses that we see being used by Voldemort and his Death Eaters. They are the Avada Kedavra Curse, the Cruciatus Curse, and the Imperius Curse which we will examine further below. For those who claim that the Harry Potter series teaches violent and immoral behavior to children, and there are many who do, considering these "unforgivable" curses" in their context ought to make them think otherwise.

We should note here that no story that seriously seeks to teach the good does not also present evil. A story can be justly characterized as evil when the protagonist or protagonists act out evil or where evil is portrayed as good and vice versa. Good takes on its most striking character when it is placed opposite evil. Any good storyteller knows this. And it is an unavoidable fact of human evolution that the presence of evil alone can produce the exceptional good that is the aim of the higher worlds to develop in humanity. A first clue to whether the Harry Potter stories teach violent and immoral behavior is in the characterization of these three curses as "unforgivable." Let us examine this violent aspect in the context of the stories and in the context of our culture today to see what we can learn from it.

In television and film today there is an unprecedented amount of violence that children and adults very often witness. Violent acts and murders are so commonly depicted that estimates of how much violence a child today can witness is staggering. A University of Michigan Health System study states: "An average American child will see 200,000 violent acts and 16,000 murders on TV by age 18. Two-thirds of all programming contains violence. Programs designed for children more often contain violence than adult TV. Most violent acts go unpunished on TV and are often accompanied by humor." [19] If we are used to watching television, even occasionally, we will have witnessed probably countless murders. In how many of those murders, we might ask, was the word "unforgivable" attached? Or in any way suggested? We might say that many of these shows depict law enforcement clashing with criminals, in which case killing is to be expected. But in these shows, we must ask, how often is the moral counterpart to violence illuminated? Is the good highlighted or explored? The police or the "good guys," the protagonists, almost always engage in killing. The heroes in Rowling's seven books, on the other hand, almost [20] never engage in killing-they primarily protect and defend; not to say that they don't engage in violent actions when fighting evil-doers, but they rarely kill.

To further evaluate the question of morality in the stories let us examine the significance of the three "unforgivable curses" as they relate to our above-mentioned reference to tyranny. Labeling these curses as "unforgivable" and categorizing them among the 'dark arts' is significant in itself. And recounting the story we will see that the protagonists, in Dumbledore's Army or in the Order of the Phoenix, who are fighting against Voldemort and his 'death eaters' do not use these curses. Additionally, what can be brought to light in a deeper examination of these evil curses is worth considering.

The first curse is violence against the body-the Avada Kedavra Curse: the painless "killing curse." The second is violence against the soul (feeling)-the Cruciatus Curse, which is meant to inflict excruciating pain. The third is violence against the spirit (free choice) - the Imperious Curse, which causes one to act according to another's will. Here we see the attack of evil against the threefold human being: body, soul and spirit. We could build an argument that the three unforgivable curses are the negative basis for all moral action. Kill not the body. Harm not the soul. Bind not the spirit. Isn't this the remedy for tyranny? Here we see the protagonists in the Harry Potter stories upholding the respect for human freedom that is foundational to advancing on the path of higher knowledge for which Rudolf Steiner was a leading exemplar. Here we can recall his often repeated formula: "For every one step made to acquire clairvoyant capacities you must take three steps in moral development."

As we watch Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Grainger, the three protagonists, throughout the seven books what we see is the constant use of numerous spells and charms with the "protego" and "expelliarmus" spells used most prominently - two spells to protect and defend the innocent (and sometimes the "undeserving") [21] and to disarm attacking enemies. The Protego spell, used to protect innocents, and the expelliarmus spell used to disarm enemies are the primary spells used by those who fight against Voldemort and his cohorts.

Another aspect of the Harry Potter series that has come under attack is the untrustworthy atmosphere Harry encounters at Hogwarts-almost everything is questionable and unreliable. Critics have pointed to the lack of trustworthy authority in school and in general in the stories as "children alienated from the normal support of their family," and society. "In HP the children exist in an environment of danger, competition, hostility, and self-interest." [22] Although these statements are true what they point to is not only appropriate but highly significant as we will see.

Not long after Harry enters Hogwarts, he discovers that in the sometimes jovial but mingled dark-and-lighthearted atmosphere of Hogwarts that is not without a grave, even fierce aspect of authority in connection with education and social responsibility: almost no one is trustworthy. Through the author's eyes we see into the psychological games that pervade the staff of the school: the egotism and posturing that seem to be the rule rather than the exception. There are a small minority of teachers and others who appear to have Harry's best interests in mind, but they invariably cannot approve of or support Harry's deepest calling, his unstinting determination to protect others by seeking to prevent Voldemort's rise to power, no matter what the cost. They consider Harry to be unqualified: too young and inexperienced to take on such tasks. Minerva McGonagall, for instance, the transfiguration teacher and Deputy Headmistress who admires Harry's courage and his talents cannot allow him to break school rules regardless of the fact that Harry is concerned only for the higher good and is driven to perform appropriate deeds based on his unique knowledge of Voldemort's whereabouts, plans and intentions. So Harry, Ron and Hermione must break school rules to accomplish the higher good for which they aim in book one for instance-preventing Voldemort from attaining the philosopher's stone, by which he means to gain the ability to return to power.

We mentioned earlier, that Professor Trelawney (teacher of Divination) was not to be relied on in terms of her magical abilities. Expanding further upon the untrustworthy atmosphere at Hogwarts, a few other examples are Argus Filch, the ill-tempered caretaker at Hogwarts, who can only be trusted to be rigid in enforcing school rules and who is bent on punitive corporeal punishment that seems more vindictive than disciplinary. And the librarian, Irma Pince, who is more eager to protect books than to further the education of Hogwarts students, earning a reputation for acting like an "underfed vulture." Another example is the conceited Professor Lockhart, one of the Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers, who builds himself up as a powerful wizard with vast knowledge and a history of brave exploits in an effort to promote his new autobiography and who turns out to be a complete impostor. And above all, Delores Umbridge, who served as the Senior Undersecretary to the Ministry of Magic before she became High Inquisitor and Head Mistress at Hogwarts, as well as Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor. The sadistic Umbridge, who appears in the fifth book (Order of the Phoenix) was installed at Hogwarts by the Minister of Magic to control the spread of the so-called "lies" about the return of Voldemort to power. Her despotic and sadistic methods won her no friends amongst the staff at Hogwarts, except for Argus Filch, who, under her direction, was given permission to torture students.

While the unreliability of the teachers at Hogwarts is pervasive other characters that Harry meets within the larger Wizarding World prove to be not any less untrustworthy. Rita Skeeter, the newspaper reporter, who can be expected continually to manipulate the truth as she pleases to come up with a sensational story, is a prime example. And Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic (the magical world's counterpart to a Prime Minister), did not believe Harry's account of his confrontation with the newly returned Voldemort and therefore led a smear campaign against Harry in the Daily Prophet newspaper.

Besides the obvious untrustworthiness outlined above, consistent with the fairy tale nature of the story, the weaknesses of the characters in the story are not hidden from the reader's view but are apparent, even caricatured. Everyone's deeper nature is laid bare with all of their idiosyncrasies and character flaws. This fact points to an esoteric truth that one encounters upon crossing the threshold of initiation: the usually invisible springs that motivate people are revealed to the initiate. This characteristic of entry into the magical world is one of the stages of Harry's initiation, a subject we will examine further in a subsequent article in this series. [23]

While Harry's teachers and monitors at Hogwarts cannot be counted on to help him, even Dumbledore, the Headmaster, the revered and unequalled Wizard who warmly acts as Harry's protector and guide throughout the series is subject to doubt, especially towards the end. Harry is not sure he can trust even Dumbledore completely; he is thrown back on himself, time and time again having to rely on his own wits with the help of his friends Hermione and Ron.

Notwithstanding its correspondence to the path of initiation, the question remains: should we present youth with such a dim picture of the social sphere, where almost no one can be trusted? Where every authority figure is subject to question? And we will add to this question, the further complication that as the series develops there is a marked darkening of the mood: an ultra-tense and ominous atmosphere as Voldemort returns to power in book four. This intensifies even further leading up to Harry's final confrontation with Voldemort and the war that ensues between the forces of good and the forces of evil. This ultra-dark scenario has also come under harsh criticism. Is such a dark atmosphere as this necessary or appropriate, especially for children?

To answer this question let us consider some typical fairy tales and a child's underlying constitution. There is a marked similarity between the criticism one sees today of fairy tales and what is condemned in the Harry Potter books. In the well known fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood, for instance, who could think of a darker more frightening scenario? We can sum up the effect of the story on a child with a few words: "Grandmother has been devoured by a wolf and the wolf is lying in her bed trying to trick me, dressed up as grandmother!" And consider Hansel and Gretel. The children's wicked stepmother convinces their kind father to dispose of the children who are eating too much food as a famine has spread over the land. He finally agrees and sends them off into the woods but Hansel, having heard the plan, has wisely collected white stones to drop on the path so they can find their way home. After they follow the stones home the wicked stepmother has the children brought deeper into the woods and does not allow them to collect stones. Hansel takes bread with him and drops pieces on the path but they are eaten by birds destroying any hope of their return. Apparently hopeless now the children discover a gingerbread house that is the dwelling of a witch that eats children. She captures them with the intent of enslaving Gretel and eating Hansel but decides to eat them both. Through cleverness the children manage to burn the witch in her own oven and finding precious jewels at the house, they return home with the treasure to discover that their wicked stepmother is dead and their father has long lamented the loss of his children.

What a horrible story to tell children, we are inclined to say! All of the role models, all of the support that a child should be able to depend on are missing; the poor children are left to their own devices! Modern intellects have as much difficulty with such stories as they do with Harry Potter. And thoroughly modern well-meaning mothers have banded together to alter the original fairy tales to make them more "appropriate," removing the dark elements from them. What they don't realize is that in doing this they invite death to meet their children later in life in a disguise, in a way that is sure to trick them. What can we make of this?

We must realize that children's thoughts are much different than adults. If we look deeply into the matter, we will understand that children have no faculties for understanding death; they have nothing hard and brittle in their bodies-even the bones in their heads remain soft and pliable for years; they are convinced that they are immortal and invincible. Death cannot touch them as it does an adult. Only during puberty and later does death play a significant role. This can be seen especially in boys around puberty for whom it is normal to have a fascination with death and which, invariably, can be seen in their "art," and in their doodles, in a "skull and crossbones" mentality that mothers will typically worry about and fathers will pass off as nothing. Nowadays many boys never leave this stage of development; they become stuck-perhaps partly on account of their parents fears of such fairy tales. One finds in this sector of grown-up boys a fascination with death; we see it in their prolonged identification with the skull and crossbones and other symbols of death. This is often an indication of the fact that they cannot rightly take hold of the intellectual in life; they have nothing to temper their emotions to which they become enslaved. They have not been allowed to incorporate death in themselves in a healthy way so they use the symbol of death as a protective device, which acts like a hard shell while their soft inner-child nature lies at depths that remain virtually inaccessible.

Fairy tales work on a deeper level in children than they do in adults; they work on a soul level to strengthen the conscience to know good from evil and inspire courageousness. Death only gains meaning in later years if we succeed to break the strangle-hold of modern psychological superficiality. Modernity leaves no place for death; it seeks to circumvent it, to act as if it did not exist: fearing age and revering youth. This is why, as thoroughly modern people, we are so un-philosophical; we cannot think independently because the strength of life that is able to confront death is lacking. An old adage attributed to Socrates is telling here: "The philosopher is seldom understood because ever and anon he seeks death." Thinking ought to be an activity that eventually leads to initiation but thought will never free itself from bondage to the material world if it does not confront death. The material world is a picture of mortality-of death that must be penetrated with spiritual thinking.

Besides the education of death that accounts for the dark mood of the story, there is a sense in which the Harry Potter stories are not for everyone but are directed to a very specific audience as well as to a deep source within all of us that remains largely inaccessible. It has been observed since the 1980s that a new sort of child is beginning to populate the world. This has been explored in the idea underlying the newly coined terms: Star Children or Indigo Children (also called Crystal Children and other names). Aside from a lot of spurious New Age speculation that can be found in the abundant literature on the subject one can find intelligent, sensible discussions and can observe this phenomenon oneself. [24] In these children, among other things, one observes an extraordinary ability to see deeply into the moral life of individuals and society around them. Star Children can see the moral deficiencies in their parents and in their teachers; they may or may not be critical in the sense of intellectual judgment but they are instinctively conscious in a way that may take many years for them to verbalize if they ever indeed acquire this capacity. They can see our deficiencies and therefore they do not trust us; they see the deficiencies in their teachers, in their employers, and in the wider culture and government - and learn, in so seeing, not to trust. They see the astonishing degree to which greed and fear motivate people. Consequently, these children are apt to pay little attention to rules, to the mores and conventions that prevail in the society around them and are branded rebellious. These children potentially hold the future in their hands, so to speak; they question deeply everything around them and therefore hold the key to a different future. But it is a serious problem, even a tragedy if they cannot connect with sources that they can trust - and find ways to work creatively to change things for the good, otherwise they are very troubled.

Harry Potter and his friends find the rules and conventions of their world tiresome and unworthy of being taken seriously when confronted with the higher purposes that motivate them. The Potter stories therefore speak the same language as Star Children; they speak to the need for change that is the deepest driving force - a force of destiny in these gifted yet troubled individuals. Harry Potter and his companions are Star Children, Star Children who have found themselves by exercising their ability to make a difference in the world.

Without a means to express and ply their inner wisdom, a deep skepticism lives in these children which accounts for much that is often misunderstood by outsiders, and which gives rise in them to feelings of alienation, to depression and may even lead to suicide. There is an alarming increase in suicides among youth today. Young people are not finding the answers they need in our society; we have not offered them the proper philosophical and intellectual means to incorporate death into their world views. On the contrary, by avoiding death we have created a culture that avoids the wisdom that comes through overcoming the deathly element of age that is the source of wisdom, and instead we succumb to inner instincts that seek death for the wrong reasons, through violent and morbid entertainments, which often get acted out in violent and morbid lifestyles or even suicide. One often finds, in the case of these young suicides, that these individuals were especially bright, inclined to be helpful, socially proactive, and loving-yet were deeply troubled. They end up taking their lives in desperation, in an effort to end the pain of alienation that they feel so acutely. Even one person who understands their pain, who has a similar awareness, can be their vital connection to life. One can see why the Harry Potter stories may be spiritual food for such individuals.

But we are living in a time that is in the pains of birth; a time when appropriately prepared spiritual midwives are not plentiful; a time of transition that will require great sacrifices to give birth to the humanity of the future - especially the sacrifice of loneliness. The inevitable effect of living in our age of developing the consciousness soul is the experience of intense loneliness. Alienation and loneliness in the spiritual life is the alchemical equivalent of being Hermetically sealed, being isolated, being left alone in the ferment of circumstances; being left to one's own devices; or "heated," as it were, in an alembic to distill the best forces of egohood-giving birth to Christ in us, our higher I. Only by passing through this "whirlwind," this chaos, will our culture discover the blessings of the "wind" of spirit knowledge. [25] This is the way world karma is forcing us to address these deep matters, the way that karma brings death to meet us, to be confronted in full consciousness. If we will not meet death consciously through initiation, death will continue to meet us in outer life in one way or another until we awaken to the spiritual.

The Harry Potter story is especially intended for our time, a time that is pregnant with all the suffering, risks, and possibilities for creating a new future. It is a story for the Star Children who represent our deepest nature brought to the surface - to a painful consciousness of the sickness of society and a consciousness of a new Good that is being birthed, which alone can answer the dilemmas of modern life.

Early in the twentieth century Rudolf Steiner spoke of our impending confrontation with evil on a world scale. He spoke of the incarnation of Ahriman/Satan shortly after the turn of the 21st century. And he instructed students of spiritual science to be aware of the fact that one of the central tasks of our era, the fifth cultural epoch, is the unveiling of the Mystery of Evil.

Through Harry Potter we see a confrontation with the evil that wants to rise to power in our time, the Ahrimanic/Satanic spirit that denies our humanity: our value as unique human beings. It is a great force of evil that seeks for material immortality, invincibility, and power apart from spirit, like Voldemort. [26] It seeks to enslave human beings for material and egotistical profit and to put an end to the spiritual striving that would be its nemesis.

Reviewing what we have discussed above we can begin to see that what J. K. Rowling has created in the Harry Potter series is a scenario by which the youth of our day, and the modern spiritually striving individual, can meet death in a way that has been denied to modern culture. Much like the fairy tales of yesterday that are actually condensed mystery wisdom, the Harry Potter series opens the possibility to give birth to the human wisdom that can be wrested from death, the treasures for which mystery knowledge has always striven.

Closing Remarks

In the foregoing paragraphs we have looked deeply into the language of the Harry Potter story to explore its layers of meaning in order to mine what significance can be extracted with modern abstract thinking capabilities. We have seen that J. K. Rowling has addressed deep moral and spiritual principles that can make much that takes place in the soul and spiritual worlds visible to spiritually inclined readers-perhaps as never before. This has been done by identifying facts, qualities and activities of soul and spirit in numerous ways in the story, by giving them names. This in turn objectifies what, in our materialistic culture, is often overlooked if not denied; in so doing readers are able to objectify their own spiritual experiences and see the possibilities of a conscious connection to the soul and spiritual worlds. For young people the Harry Potter stories become a playground for their imaginations and something that can be immediately useful, or that can remain like a seed for conscious development in the future, as they mature.

We have also sought to uncover something of what lies behind the popularity of the Harry Potter stories that appeal to the deepest inner sense in the populace, in what Novalis called the "everyday person:" [27] a feeling-knowledge of the good and true-in those who are not intellectually compromised by spurious religious tenets and theological abstractions. In what we have uncovered thus far we can see a considerable penetration to spiritual truth and reality, by J. K. Rowling, a penetration that the religious perspectives of our time have failed to achieve. We see a strong moral imagination in the author who has created a work of fiction that is highly entertaining, deeply spiritual, and ethically edifying.

The religion of our present day has not kept pace with the outer culture of intellect and science. The religious perspective of official Christendom, in particular, has remained behind, devoid of spiritual scientific thinking; it has allowed a rift to be created in the soul of modern humanity-between intellectual thinking and spiritual truth and reality, both of which are necessary to achieve moral firmness in our present day culture. Only spiritual science enlivened in the will of human beings can bridge this divide. What is revealed in the Harry Potter series that is of a spiritual scientific nature, is hidden behind a threshold for the religious-minded person who is captive to specious codes of conduct and theological generalizations and is therefore not sensitive to the universal human qualities that a healthy conscience senses in such works. While the religious mind cleaves to old ideas and language, it fails to reach the spiritual truth and reality that is accessible by freeing thinking from language, which is a necessity in our time. [28]

Today we will not be able to free our thinking to embrace spiritual reality if we remain unconditionally bound to language. Language has always had both the power to conceal and to reveal, to bind or to set free. In our time we must be especially conscious of this fact because meaning has largely freed itself from language and what seems outwardly correct is often merely obscurantism: a subterfuge for backward, Luciferic ideas or a scrim for Ahrimanic untruth. If we are bound to language unconditionally we will inevitably be led away from the path of spiritual development, for language has largely become the tool of obscuring powers. Spiritual development in our time necessarily confronts this threshold: learn to know what lies in and behind language or be captive to the bondage of literalism that lives in unresolved contradiction. [29] Quoting Rudolf Steiner: "We must be especially aware that language is always a kind of tyrant over thinking and has implanted in our souls a tendency to materialism." [30]

Concluding the present study, in which we have addressed the most prominent objections to the Harry Potter series by drawing attention to its esoteric and moral foundations from a spiritual scientific perspective, and have investigated its significance, there remains much as yet unexplored in terms of its greater significance for the future. We will address this in future articles dealing with the Path of Initiation, the Stream of Rosicrucianism and the Grail Stream, as they appear in the Harry Potter series for a more complete picture of its significance for the future.

>> PART II: HARRY POTTER AND THE PATH OF INITIATION

Footnotes

  • [1] "The funny thing is that Harry came into my head almost completely formed" J. K. Rowling, Interview with Christopher Lydon, The Connection (WBUR Radio) 12 October, 1999; "The idea for Harry Potter occurred to JK Rowling on the train from Manchester to London, where she says Harry Potter "just strolled into my head fully formed" Fantasy Book Review, J K Rowling biography.
  • [2] It appeared in September 1998 under the name: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, a name given for American readers who the publisher decided would not associate "philosopher" with a story about magic.
  • [3] We should note that this is not including such books as The Bible, The Qur'an, or Quotations from Chairman Mao, for instance.
  • [4] See: Frans J. Lutters' book Who is Harry Potter? See also: Rev. Craig Wiggins, "From Parsifal to Potter: a Quest to become a contemporary of your time." Conference at Christian Community Church in San Francisco, May 2013; And: Sune Nielsen, Harry Potter - a fantasy world? Rudolf Steiner House, Sussex Street, Sydney Australia. Also: Waldorf advocate Eugene Schwartz' lectures: Harry Potter, Millennial Child, and Harry Potter and the Secret Brotherhoods. http://www.millennialchild.com/page15/page4/page4.html.
  • [5] Early interviews indicate that aside from an admitted interest in Alchemy, J. K. Rowling claimed no spiritual, religious or philosophical background. Anne Simpson: Face to Face with J. K. Rowling: Casting a spell over young minds, The Herald, 7 December 1998. Rowling's position changed after the last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was in print when she claimed that she held her former position because she didn't want to give away the ending of the story which is decidedly Christian. Rowling also began to speak openly of her membership in the Church of Scotland and her many Christian inspired themes in the Harry Potter story. The Telegraph, J K Rowling: "Christianity inspired Harry Potter." by Jonathan Petre, Religious Correspondent, 20 October 2007; The Hollowverse, The religious and political views of influentials.
  • [6] Harry Potter and the Seven Gates of Theosophy, by Michael Frensch, Issue 50, New View Magazine, Winter 2008/9, pp.54-63.
  • [7] Dr. Michael Frensch is the author of Discernment based on the Apocalypse of John; The Second Coming; Christian Education and Waldorf Education, among others and is a publisher of anthroposophical books and a journal under the name Novalis Verlag.
  • [8] According to Rudolf Steiner Archangel Michael began his regency, following the Archangel Gabriel, as a time spirit guiding the conscious evolution of humanity, in 1879 and will continue for 350 years until the Archangel Uriel begins his regency.
  • [9] P. 30, Novalis, Philosophical Writings, translated and edited by Margaret Mohony Stoljar, State University of New York Press, Albany, NY, Copyright 1997.
  • [10] The community founded in 1912 by Rudolf Steiner which was re-founded as the General Anthroposophical Society in 1923/4 in Dornach Switzerland "to nurture the life of soul, both in the individual and in human society on the basis of a true knowledge of the spiritual world," according to its statutes.
  • [11] In a subsequent study in this series having to do with the Rosicrucian Stream as it appears in the Harry Potter series, the author will examine the foundation stone of love.
  • [12] See: An Exploration of the Harry Potter Series, by M.J. Ph.D., Pp. 54-72, Starlight, Journal of the Sophia Foundation, Vol. 13, No.2, Advent 2013. E-copy available at: http://www.sophiafoundation.org/images/stories/Documents/starlight_advent%202013.pdf .
  • [13] "The science derived from the faculties typical of later Post-Atlantean humanity would have been entirely unintelligible to the Egyptians and the Chaldeans." Rudolf Steiner, Deeper Secrets of Human History, p. 51. Although this statement refers to an earlier period it may nevertheless be applied to the period under discussion.
  • [14] See "Five Caricature Heads," "Caricature of a man with bushy hair," "Grotesque Head," and others called "Caricature 1, 2, 3" etc. These can be seen at: http://www.leonardoda-vinci.org/ .
  • [15] Such altered human forms appeared in George Lucas' futuristic film saga "Star Wars" with characters like the crime lord Jabba the Hutt and many other human/animal creatures in the night club scene for instance.
  • [16] Such as Michelangelo's noble sculptural depiction of the Biblical character David.
  • [17] Rudolf Steiner refers to this state in regard to creativity and the artistic view of life. Refer to: Rudolf Steiner, Supersensible Knowledge: Anthroposophy as a Demand of the Age, Lecture II, : http://wn.rsarchive.org/Lectures/GA084/English/AP1943/19230929p01.html , and other sources. .
  • [18] Rudolf Steiner, Esoteric Christianity and the Mission of Christian Rosenkreutz, (Forest Row, East Sussex: Rudolf Steiner Press) Lecture: Kassel, Germany, 29 January 1912, 229.
  • [19] University of Michigan Health Study
  • [20] Bellatrix Lestrange, arguable the most evil character in the story aside from Voldemort, is killed by Molly Weasley, the mother of seven children (Bill, Charley, Percy, Fred, George, Ron and Ginny), in the penultimate chapter of the seven book series. Molly responds to Bellatrix's taunt: "What will happen to your children when I've killed you? When Mummy's gone the same way as Freddie?" (This last referring to the murder of her 4th son Fred.) Molly attacks Bellatrix with the words: "You - will - never - touch - my - children - again!" The spell that she uses is not divulged in the story.
  • [21] Harry and Dumbledore protect and defend the undeserving Draco Malfoy numerous times.
  • [22] Refer to: M.J. Ph.D., p. 69, An Exploration of the Harry Potter Series, Starlight, Newsletter of the Sophia Foundation, Vol. 13, No. 2 Advent 2013.
  • [23] Under the title: Part II, Harry Potter and the Path of Initiation. .
  • [24] Prolific author and Anthroposophical consciousness researcher Georg Kuhlewind, has written a book entitled: Star Children: Understanding children who set us special tasks and challenges, in which he says: "And it came home to me that for about the last twenty years (with a few forerunners) a new generation of children has been coming to earth in growing numbers, and that this is the most important happening of our age." p. 3. Kuhlewind also refers to Henning Kohler as an author to whom he owes a debt of gratitude for his knowledge of this matter. The book is published by Temple Lodge, 2004. Also see by Eugene Schwartz: Harry Potter, Millennial Child.
  • [25] Originally attributed to Hosea the Israelite Prophet of the old Testament (Hosea 8:7) the saying: "He who sows the wind will reap the whirlwind," spoken by the individuality of the Count of St. Germaine, to the Lady in Waiting of Marie Antionette, Madame d'Adhemar. See: The Temple Legend, Lecture 5, of Rudolf Steiner, The Mystery Known to Rosicrucians, Berlin. 4 November 1904.
  • [26] Significantly, the name Voldemort means "void" or "flee death." While in this present article we have discussed the proper attitude of the philosophical approach to life as "confronting death" and the fact that philosophical thinking becomes initiation-thinking, the author will take up the contrasting points of view between Harry Potter and Voldemort as relates to death in a subsequent study in this series dealing with the path of initiation.
  • [27] Novalis, Novalis, Philosophical Writings, translated and edited by Margaret Mohony Stoljar, (State University of New York Press, Albany, NY, 1997), 30.
  • [28] For an article length discussion of this topic see the author's: Archangel Michael: How Can We Know Him No. IV, Freeing Thought from Language, which may be found at https://independent.academia.edu/BillTrusiewicz and at https://www.anthroposophy.org in the articles archive.
  • [29] "Ahriman and Lucifer can accomplish something only when a contradiction remains unnoticed, when we have neither the strength nor the will to lay it bare." (GA 254), 19 Oct. 1915, Rudolf Steiner.
  • [30] Rudolf Steiner, The Universal Human, The Evolution of Individuality. Lecture of December 7, 1909, Munich. (Anthroposophical Press, 1990), 20.
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