Harry Potter And The “Occult”: How Reading Was Almost Ruined For Me

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Last week I wrote about how much the Harry Potter books meant to me as a young reader – and to some degree, still does – but this week I’d like to write about how this lovely part of my childhood was placed in jeopardy.

As is wont to happen, there are groups of society who easily condemn anything that is popular as evil. I attended a conservative primary school, which was very vocal about its ideas of right and wrong. They declared things to be “evil” with striking regularity.

Heh… couldn’t resist.

Anyway, when I started reading Harry Potter, it was not at all well-known in South Africa yet (I’m not sayin’ I’m hipster, but…) – but as we all know, HP-fever would spread rapidly. The first movie came to South Africa late in November 2001, so by the beginning of the next year, you could say that Harry Potter fever had finally reached the kids at my school well and truly.

Obviously it wasn’t long before parents started complaining to the school. We didn’t even have a very up-to-date school library, so it didn’t carry the HP books, but parents still wrote ardent letters to teachers about the evil of Harry Potter, and they hoped that HP games/trading cards/etc would be banned.

Then, in Bible classes, teachers would talk about how Harry Potter represented the occult, and that we should not read the books. Some students brought magazines to class with pictures of pagan symbols and all sorts of things (why were they allowed to bring those, then? ACTUAL factual things?), pointing them out and declaring, “SEE! THAT’S in the books!” – even though I knew that most of them hadn’t even read the books, nor their parents. Most of them were probably just reacting to chain emails and rumours.

And me? I was just sitting there, thinking that these books had been the best books I had read in years, and now somebody was telling me that it was WRONG?

I was a good girl. I didn’t want to do “bad things”. I remembered how there had been scary bits in the books, and I wondered if that had been a sign of inherent evil. My teachers asked me if the HP books ever made mention of Christ, and I said no – but nor did they make mention of any other religion, or of any anti-religion! (Well. At least these teachers prepared me well for my future high-school debate career.)

My teachers said that the Bible was clear that witches and magic were bad. I was just twelve, and I wasn’t a theologian, but I had the feeling that the magic and witches of the Bible were very different from McGonagall and her sort. Furthermore, many other books and shows had magic, and they had no problem with those… what about Peter Pan and Tinkerbell? The Chronicles of Narnia? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? (The latter, my dad later told me, was also condemned as evil long before I was born.)

But there wasn’t much room for debating with the teachers who told me that my favourite books were bad. Back-chatting to your elders was BAD – and the last thing I ever wanted to be was bad. So I didn’t read Harry Potter again for almost a year, until my parents asked me what I wanted for Christmas (2002) and I said, “I would love… oh, never mind.” I wanted to say that I would love Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but then caught myself. But because my parents are awesome, they persisted, and I caved and told them how sad I was about the supposed “evilness” of Harry Potter.

And my wonderful parents, who have strong morals and are devout Christians, said the wisest thing I know.

“Evil is everywhere. If you go looking for it in a book, a movie or a game, you WILL find it.”

They didn’t think the boy wizard was evil at all! And I trusted my parents’ judgment far more than that of any teacher. So I got the book for Christmas and I loved it. I continued to feel that Harry Potter was a story of the triumph of good over evil, and that magic was just part of the setting.

Years later, when HP and the Deathly Hallows was published, many people changed their tune, because all of a sudden there were all these parallels to Biblical stories. Now, all of a sudden, Harry Potter was worthy. But those of us who had actually read the books, had known this all along.

It still bothers me, though. That I couldn’t just enjoy these books for the fantastical stories that they were. That I, as a little girl, had to defend my reading choices when really it was one of the cleanest books out there. And one of the best.

This is how censoring and the rubbish debates about “evil” in kids lit hurts reading. Luckily for me, I’m a die-hard bookworm. I wasn’t going to stop reading because somebody made me feel bad about it. I just wonder how many kids weren’t as lucky as me.

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17 thoughts on “Harry Potter And The “Occult”: How Reading Was Almost Ruined For Me

  1. “I wasn’t a theologian, but I had the feeling that the magic and witches of the Bible were very different from McGonagall and her sort” – I am and it is.

    I can’t tell you how many arguments I’ve had with people about this over the years. And as you say, the people who write the books off as evil most of the time hasn’t even read them. And then they’re so inconsistent! Magic in Narnia is okay, but not in HP? Do you know Liewe Heksie? When I was a kid that was supposedly evil.

    Harry Potter got kids to start reading again, a trend that has continued if we look at the massive boom in YA literature since, and that alone makes it a win in my book.

    • Oh my goodness yes, I remember that there were people who took issue with Liewe Heksie as well. I loved that book/show, and so did my parents. It was the sweetest thing, actually.
      I agree. So many of my friends who eventually started reading HP then carried on reading other books, which was so great. Thanks for your support and insights!

  2. I REALLY love what your parents said to you.
    I think if people spent a little more time looking at the good rather than focusing all their energy on what they perceive as bad . . .
    Well, we’d all probably have a lot more energy to spare on positive things.
    Good for you, not letting other people’s standards dictate the way you live your life.
    I think you can have whatever beliefs you have and still enjoy a good book. (Or video game, or movie.) :)

  3. I love what your parents said to you. I am sorry people gave you such a hard time about it.
    I remember back when I was in my undergrad, my husband (then new boyfriend) and I went out with some friends of his. They went off on a huge rant about the “Harry Potter” hype and how it was promoting witchcraft and damaging minds and how “unchristian” it was to read. I was actually reading one of the books at the time and had it in my bag with me. I remember being pretty hurt by their words, especially because at the time, I was still sorting out the whole God thing and I couldn’t for the life of me understand what their issue was. We had a pretty heated debate because Harry Potter is great to get kids reading, it is clearly fiction and there is magic in all kinds of books. Plus, this world is full of bad stuff. All you have to do is look around.
    I agree with you. Some people can be very closed minded and censoring and debates can really hurt reading and kids. Sometimes we need to see things for what they are, great stories with good lessons that get people reading. I’m glad you had that chance.

    • I’m glad you mentioned the flip-side too – how these ridiculous debates can affect people who are not yet strong in their faith. I personally feel that the thing that has made faith most difficult for me is when Christians find a new thing every other day to denounce as unchristian. It’s a pretty sound way of sending people running for the hills.

  4. I remember when Harry Potter began getting all this bad press from religious groups over here as well. Extreme groups felt HP glorified witchcraft, paganism and the devil. I’m not sure if it compared to what you guys went through over there but I remember it bothering me to no end. ANYONE who has actually read the books can not deny the valuable life-lessons it contains, the good solid morals, the underlying theme that love triumphs over hate, that people must stand up for what is right…etc. I felt so angered and hurt that people who knew nothing about the series would revolt against it, and ban the series from schools and libraries.

    BUT, since I was already out of school when it all went down, I never imagined what kind of effect it would have on younger people, like you, who loved HP but wondered if they were bad for feeling the way they did. You’re lucky you had wonderful parents who were wise enough to know better! I’m glad you eventually returned to the series :D Like you though, I feel bad for those who weren’t as lucky or level-headed as you were (and are). Thank you so much for sharing your story. I loved reading it and the images/gifs you chose were brilliant ♥

    Micheline @ Lunar Rainbows Reviews

    • I don’t think we had it any worse than you guys – it was probably more or less the same degree of annoyance, LOL. For me, it all turned out well, at least.
      Thanks for stopping by! :)

  5. That sounds terrible! We never had Bible classes in schools, still don’t, and the issue of magic and witches and so on never became an issue and a big debate. HP was a hit here, everyone loved it, that was all. We’re not all that terribly religious as a country so maybe we never fully experienced it all.
    It’s sad when people that know nothing about a certain topic go about bashing it and calling it names and demanding bans… So silly, and makes them look even more moronic than they actually are. I am so glad your parents were the cool sort and helped you love HP further no matter what other said! :)

    • I don’t think our schools have Bible classes anymore either – I don’t have anything against religion per se, but in that setup it was just used as a way to control the kids in schools – not cool.

  6. “Evil is everywhere. If you go looking for it in a book, a movie or a game, you WILL find it.”

    That is an awesome quote, especially from your parents in the midst of the whole “omg HP is evil!” debacle. I remember that! I remember thinking “… They’re books. They’re fictional fantasy books. Really? This is a debate?”

    It’s especially silly when people who have never read the books are the ones bashing it. They take the books at the synopsis and extrapolate that the books are all about witchcraft and evilness, when it’s really a coming-of-age story with strong friendships and great bravery.

  7. I love what your parents said about evil being every where & if you look for it, of course you’ll find it.

    I didn’t have as extensive experience with this as you did, but there definitely was a little. One of my mom’s friends told her she shouldn’t allow me to read the Harry Potter books because of the witchcraft(my parents let me read pretty much everything). That didn’t go over with my mom very well–for two reasons. One, being that she knew the books were fictional books, and two, she didn’t take very kindly to someone else telling her how to parent :)
    I

  8. This is such an interesting post. I don’t come from a religious background and I’ve never had any of the beliefs forced on me, so this is something completely different. I mean, I was aware of all of the negativity from a minority of Christians regarding the books, but I can’t believe they tried to stop school kids from READING just because it wasn’t what they wanted. Good on you for sticking with Potter and I’m so happy for you that your parents are great :).

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