As kids around the world anxiously await the fall opening of Warner Bros.’ film “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” an occult expert has released a documentary video, “Harry Potter: Witchcraft Repackaged, Making Evil Look Innocent,” claiming the Harry Potter phenomenon is incompatibile with Christianity.
With four books of the seven-book series published since 1999, Harry Potter’s popularity has skyrocketed. The young character is the creation of British author J.K. Rowling, who is expected to finish the fifth installment of the series next year. Now, with the first of several feature-film adaptations of the children’s story set to open on Nov. 16, Harry Potter fever has started heating up again.
The books made headlines in the United States in 1999, after the first Harry Potter installment was released stateside. Shortly thereafter, many parents and religious groups expressed concern that the story should not be taken lightly as mere children’s fantasy literature. Critics disapprove of the books’ presentation of the occult as a positive, virtuous lifestyle.
To understand the controversy surrounding the books, it is necessary to review their content. While not all of the characters and story lines may be explored in this report, a few key elements should be discussed.
Set in England, the books chronicle the life of young Harry Potter, whose wizard parents were killed by the evil Lord Voldemort. Because Harry escaped the death curse of Voldemort, he was given a mark on his forehead – a lightening bolt. On his 11th birthday, Harry receives an invitation to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Each of the four published books represents a year at Hogwarts.
Voldemort is a non-physical “dark magic” being who inhabits the bodies of various characters in the books. Perhaps most notably, Voldemort possesses Quirrell, Hogwarts’ “Defense Against the Dark Arts” teacher.
Voldemort taught Quirrell, “There is no good and evil; there is only power, and those too weak to seek it.”
The evil lord made Quirrell his slave and could be seen on the back of the teacher’s head, which Quirrell covered with a turban. Book one explains this phenomenon:
Where there should have been a back to Quirrel’s head, there was a face, the most terrible face Harry had ever seen. It was chalk white with glaring red eyes and slits for nostrils, like a snake.
“See what I have become?” the face said. “Mere shadow and vapor. … I have form only when I can share another’s body … but there have always been those willing to let me into their hearts and minds. … Unicorn blood has strengthened me these past weeks. … Once I have the Elixir of Life, I will be able to create a body of my own. …”
Voldemort, according to Hogwarts’ Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, “is looking for another body to share. … not being truly alive, he cannot be killed.” When Voldemort dispossessed Quirrell, the teacher died.
Rowling has said publicly that she intentionally created the graphic evil characters and scenes in her wildly popular series.
“I made a very conscious decision right at the beginning that I was writing about someone evil, and I wasn’t going to tell a lie. I wasn’t going to pretend that an evil person is a paper cutout and no one really gets hurt. OK, if you’re writing about evil, I think generally you have a responsibility to show what that means, and that’s the way I’m writing them. I think they’re quite, well actually, I think they’re very moral books,” Rowlings told a television news program.
Many agree with the author’s premise, but critics object to the use of witchcraft and wizardry in fighting evil, not to mention the book’s graphic depictions of evil. Even the good wizards in Harry’s world cause eyebrows to be raised in many circles. One such example is found in Headmaster Dumbledore.
Dumbledore is the one wizard Voldemort fears. In book one, the headmaster explains how his 666-year-old business partner Nicolas Flamel and Nicolas’ wife, Perenelle, will die. The couple discusses with Dumbledore their eminent suicide, which will be a byproduct of their actions to stop Voldemort.
Explaining to an astonished Harry, the headmaster says, “To one as young as you, I’m sure it seems incredible, but to Nicolas and Perenelle, it really is like going to bed after a very, very long day. After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.”
There are varying degrees of opposition to the Harry Potter books, from those who choose not to allow their own children to read the series to those who would have the book banned. One woman, filmmaker and occult expert Caryl Matrisciana, focuses her efforts on explaining what she believes are the dangers of the series and how the books portray a lifestyle diametrically opposed to that of the Christian.
Matrisciana, co-founder of Jeremiah Films with her husband, Patrick Matrisciana, has spent 25 years researching the occult. A fifth-generation descendant of a British colonial family, Matrisciana was born and raised in Calcutta, India, where she was exposed to what she describes as the “black side” of Hinduism. While in India, she saw first-hand Hindu religious practices involving human blood and bones. She distinguishes the “black side” from the “everyday religious practices” of Hinduism, which involve heavy reliance on astrology for decision-making.
Upon moving to England, Matrisciana became involved in the occult – literally meaning “hidden knowledge.” But the filmmaker said her deep-seated fear of the “black side” of mysticism, which she credits to her experiences in India, kept her from performing more graphic rituals. Eventually, she became a Christian and worked through the British media to raise awareness of the dangers of the occult.
Matrisciana encourages Christians in her new hour-long documentary video to take an honest look at the world children fantasize about when reading Rowling’s books.
“Through Harry Potter books and audios, children as young as kindergarten age are being introduced to human sacrifice, the sucking of blood from dead animals and possession by spirit beings,” the video states.
Matrisciana points to a quote from book one of the series, from which the upcoming film was produced. In chapter five, Harry finds a dead unicorn in the “Forbidden Forest.”
It was a unicorn all right, and it was dead. … Harry had taken one step toward it when a slithering sound made him freeze where he stood. A bush on the edge of the clearing quivered. … Then, out of the shadows, a hooded figure came crawling across the ground like some stalking beast. … The cloaked figure reached the unicorn, lowered its head over the wound in the animal’s side, and began to drink its blood. …
… The hooded figure raised its head and looked right at Harry – unicorn blood was dribbling down its front. …
Then a pain like he’d (Harry) never felt before pierced his head; it was as though his scar were on fire.
While Matrisciana draws many symbolic parallels between Harry’s world and Christianity – Voldemort’s “slithering” form to that of Satan in the biblical account of creation, for example – the graphic nature of the scene is enough to turn many parents off.
Indeed, “Voldermort’s agenda of cruel revenge to those who oppose him, and the ultimate physical death of Harry’s friend, is carried out throughout the rest of the Harry Potter series,” said Matrisciana, who has read all four books in the series.
Many parents, regardless of their faith, may not wish to have their children read about evil non-physical beings who drink the blood of animals to gain power. But the books are marketed to children ages 9-12. For Christians in particular, the acclamation given Harry Potter’s world is seen as unbiblical.
In the book of Deuteronomy, one of the Bible’s books of “law” in Jewish and Christian traditions, witchcraft and sorcery are specifically condemned.
Chapter 18, verses 10-14, read: “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord, and because of these detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the Lord your God. The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the Lord your God has not permitted you to do so.”
Noted Matrisciana, “Divination and sorcery are taught in an assortment of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry classes, as is spell-casting. A medium, demon-possessed teacher prophesies a message of death in a very realistic trance state. Spirits appear as those who died and arrive at strategic times to help Harry when he is in danger. His dead parents appear in the mirror of Harry’s desire and give words of encouragement as they, too, help him in times of danger.”
The video documentary details numerous similarities between the spells and magic used by Harry Potter and those used in the witchcraft of the Wiccan religion. Such striking similarity, said Matrisciana, is evidence that the author has meticulously researched Wicca and included its tenets in her children’s books.
“My greatest concern is that godly fear that protects mankind from dabbling in the spirit world is being taken away from children who read these Harry Potter books. The terrors and horrors of black magic and occult practice, rituals, ceremonies and demon possession are being normalized,” she said. “Alarmingly, the Potter books are engaging in pagan discipleship, disciplining our children to spiritual alternatives and also turning them away from the biblical principles and God’s protection.”
Some children who read the books, often more than once, may find themselves attracted to the magical world Harry lives in, she said. In attempting to create their own spells and charms, kids may turn to other books that teach witchcraft.
Just as Christians find themselves increasingly attracted to Scripture and the things of God, dabblers in the occult become more deeply entrenched in the dark arts, remarked Matrisciana, who lived through the experience herself.
But John Monk, an editorial writer for The State in Columbia, S.C., said the claim that Harry Potter lures children into the occult is “poppycock.”
“You might as well say ‘Gone With The Wind’ teaches young readers to be slave owners, or ‘Treasure Island’ entices children to be pirates, or ‘Peter Pan’ urges children to run away from home,” Monk wrote in a an October 1999 editorial, when anti-Potter sentiments began heating up.
Contrary to opponents’ claims, “The Potter books promote – through their characters – friendship, love, bravery, self-reliance, the importance of family and tolerance toward those different from us. They depict the quest for knowledge, wisdom and right action – the universal journey every human takes. The books condemn bullies, falsity, rudeness, greed and Nazi-like tendencies to denigrate and hurt those who aren’t like us,” he continued.
Monk acknowledges Rowling’s raw depiction of evil, and compares the characters to those in the Bible.
Rowling’s characters, he wrote, “struggle within themselves. But no worthwhile book, the Bible included, has only plastic people. Life is played for keeps. Good books reflect that.”
All that aside, however, Monk said he understands why some people dislike the books.
“Many people just don’t understand that writers use the supernatural as a prop. That’s different from luring kids to the occult. That said, however, we certainly should respect parents’ rights to choose what their own children read. We shouldn’t force children to read books they aren’t ready for. But school officials, librarians and teachers must stand firm against any attempt to ban Potter books from [South Carolina] classrooms or schools. This is a state where tens of thousands of children read below grade level. And Potter books are turning kids on to reading.”
But in some schools, Harry Potter is not merely available to kids in the school library. The books’ publisher, Scholastic, encourages teachers to read the books aloud in class and provides discussion guides for teachers and parents. On the publisher’s website, children are invited to enter a “discussion chamber” where they answer questions about the Harry Potter series and related topics.
One such question asked kids, “Although students are prohibited to practice their magic in the Muggle world (the everyday, nonmagical world), what one spell would you most like to cast in the real world … if you had the chance? Why?”
Erik, 11, answered, “I would cast a spell to have peace in the world.”
Sam, 9, said, “I would like to turn some books into real places, characters, etc.”
And 9-year-old Nicola replied, “I would like to cast a spell so when someone thought bad thoughts about you they would be sent to a corn field to work there until they started thinking nice things. The charm would be: ‘Hocus Pocus 123 put this person in the corn field for me!'”
Other questions encourage kids to think about their own lives through the lens of Harry Potter’s world. For example, one question reads, “Of all the characters in the Harry Potter book series, which one is most like you, and why?” Another asks kids, “You are to report on your home town for Muggle Studies class. What would wizards find most interesting?”
Matrisciana thinks introduction of the Harry Potter books into the classroom as a springboard for curriculum is unacceptable. Because the books are so well-researched, the values and ceremonies portrayed closely resemble Wicca, which is a legitimate, government-recognized religion. A key tenet of that religion is that there is no absolute truth, said Matrisciana. With a captive audience, public school teachers are able, consciously or not, to embrace Wiccan teachings, conditioning children to believe there are no absolutes, she explained.
“The only absolute is that Christianity is wrong,” she added.
But even some Christians are endorsing Harry Potter. In a November 1999 broadcast of his radio series “Breakpoint,” author Chuck Colson commended Harry and his friends for their “courage, loyalty and a willingness to sacrifice for one another – even at the risk of their lives.” Colson dismissed the pagan practices as “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.”
And popular Christian publication World Magazine reviewed book one of the series in May 1999, calling it “a delight – with a surprising bit of depth.” Author Roy Maynard assured World readers that “Rowling … keeps it safe, inoffensive and non-occult. This is the realm of Gandalf and the Wizard of Id, not witchcraft. There is a fairy-tale order to it all in which, as Chesterton and Tolkien pointed out, magic must have rules, and good does not – cannot – mix with bad.”
But Matrisciana disagrees with her Christian colleagues, and finds it hard to believe the books do not portray the occult. As an example, she points to book four, the most recent of the series, which contains a gruesome narrative in the chapter titled, “Flesh, Blood and Bone”
In the chapter, Harry is magically transported with his friend Cedric to a dark, scary graveyard. There, Harry is tied to the headstone of Lord Voldemort’s father’s tomb by Voldemort’s slave, Wormtail – a shapeshifter who takes the form of a rat. A slithering snake, synonymous with the presence of Voldemort, circles around Harry. Following an order to kill from a voice of unknown origin, the slave utters a death curse. In shock, Harry witnesses the murder of his friend Cedric.
“While Rowling had warned there’d be a death in this book and said Harry’s world would be getting darker, this is not a death per se. It isn’t even a murder per se,” said Matrisciana. “The diabolical truth is this is an intentional human sacrifice, a symbolic human sacrifice and very necessary for the ritual that is about to take place within the next page or so. In serious magic, a human sacrifice is essential for the power to work.”
After Cedric’s murder, the largest cauldron Harry has ever seen, filled with a magic brew, is heated over flames Wormtail has magically conjured up. At another command, Wormtail lifts a bundle Harry thought looked like a baby and lowers it into the heated sparkling juice in the cauldron. But the thing is not a baby – it is a gruesome crouching creature that turns out to be the human skeletal being of Voldemort.
“Ugly, slimy, blind, hairless and scaly-looking, dark, raw, reddish black, thin, feeble, flat and snakelike face with gleaming red eyes,” the book reads.
This hideous frail human body makes “a soft thud” as it hits the bottom of the boiling cauldron. Then Wormtail, using his wand and words of power, commands bone to ascend out of Lord Voldemort’s father’s grave and join his son in the cauldron. Powdered bone magically travels into the cauldron. The ritual continues as the self-sacrificing slave performs a morbid self-inflicted mutilation with his silver dagger and chops off his right arm. Writhing in pain over “the bleeding stump of his arm, gasping and sobbing,” he throws his fresh flesh into the brew. With his spare left arm, Wormtail draws blood from Harry in a grotesque ceremony. When Harry’s powerful blood touches the smoking liquid of the cauldron, the concoction is complete, and Voldemort is reborn.
“This is a satanic ritual, repulsively diabolical, because in Satan’s twisted method, it is meant to duplicate, with blasphemous sarcasm, God’s requirements for creation and resurrected, born-again life,” said Matrisciana. “In perfection, these only come through the power of God’s word and work of his Holy Spirit. ‘Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh’ was Adam’s acknowledgment to God for Eve’s physical new creation. Jesus’ self-sacrificing flesh and blood were sacrificially given as a penalty for our sins, and through a personal acceptance of that free gift, there is spiritual rebirth and newness of a resurrected life. But in actuality, what is rising? A spirit creature that needs human flesh and blood in order to survive? A type of cannibal and vampire? What is taking place here?
“It’s hard to imagine Rowling can get darker than the following story but she promises she will,” the filmmaker continued. “Christians need to understand that God finds witchcraft evil,” she said, adding that the books cleverly mask the true nature of their contents by repackaging evil in a fascinating, alluring child’s world.
“Most people are probably reading this from the superficial level. But if you start looking into the symbology of it, you see that it’s a real religion,” she said. “If you start on the assumption that witchcraft is evil, then you can read it with open eyes.”
Known to Christians as the personification of evil and “Father of Lies,” Satan’s purpose is destruction and turning Christianity on its head, she added.
“Christians are so na?ve because they’ve been sheltered by Christian America,” she said. “This very Christian culture, while it’s being protective, it has also bred a sort of lukewarm Christian” that doesn’t see evil as evil, the filmmaker concluded.