British author J.K. Rowling is taking the children's world by storm. Her series of books featuring the fictional character Harry Potter are selling as fast as they are produced. After the first four books of her seven—book series appeared, her fans couldn't get enough. In November, amid fanfare and expectations of huge financial success, Warner Brothers released the movie Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, based on her first book.
What is this story that has mesmerized so many young readers? The books, set in Britain, chronicle the life of a boy named Harry Potter, son of wizard parents who were killed by the evil wizard Lord Voldemort. When he turns 11, young Harry is invited to attend the prestigious Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to develop the powers he inherited from his parents. Each book describes a year at the Hogwarts academy.
Many people describe this story as simply innocent fun—noting J.K. Rowling's great literary style and celebrating the fact that the books do encourage children to read.
But not everyone agrees. Given the books' presentation of the occult as a positive, virtuous way of life, some parents and educational and religious groups have been at odds with those who believe the books are appropriate reading material for impressionable young minds. A few toy retailers have refused to stock Harry Potter merchandise because of its connection with occult sources.
In all fairness to the Harry Potter books, it should be noted that, while Harry and his friends are labeled as wizards and witches and learn to use wands and cast spells, much of their resemblance to actual witches is superficial. The Harry Potter stories are set in a make—believe world that includes flying cars, chocolate frogs, gnomes who ruin gardens, mer—people, unicorns and the like.
In the stories, those who have magical ability do not receive it from spirit forces. Rather, it is presented as an innate ability they are born with (sort of like the old TV shows Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie).
Indeed, the whole tenor of the stories is more that of an alternate universe. They are set in a crazy, bizarre fantasy world created in the series' author's vivid imagination. For example, the "magic world" has its own banking system, newspapers, postal system, schools, jobs and more. Harry Potter becomes a champion at quidditch, a fictional sport played on broomsticks that is as popular in the magical realm as pro football is in America.
In this alternate reality a class of people is presented as having supernatural powers—akin to science—fiction shows in which alien peoples have certain powers, such as Mr. Spock being able to perform a "Vulcan mind meld" on Star Trek or Luke Skywalker using "the Force" in Star Wars.
On that note, there does seem to be a craving in many people's psyche for occult fantasy, and Hollywood is there to cash in on it. Besides the Harry Potter movie, December saw the premiere of the sword—and—sorcery epic The Lord of the Rings, and the next Star Wars movie is slated to be out later this year.
As far as literary value goes, the stories just mentioned, including Harry Potter, present such themes as the battle between good and evil, the struggle of the individual against overwhelming odds and the development of character and courage, even justice and mercy.
What, then, is the danger here? To understand, we must look at what God has to say about actual witchcraft and sorcery—and why.
In working with ancient Israel, God consistently condemned witches, witchcraft and all things associated with the occult. In Exodus 22:18 God gave these blunt instructions: "You shall not permit a sorceress ['witch,' King James Version] to live."
Although some subsequent generations misapplied these prohibitions, even to the point of putting innocent people to death, there was a good reason for their inclusion in the Bible. The occult takes people away from the true God and exposes them to the often—unrealized dangers of a sinister spirit world.
In Deuteronomy 18:9-12 God adds: "When you come into the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those [pagan] nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium ['consulter with familiar spirits,' KJV], or a spiritist ['wizard,' KJV], or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the LORD ..." (emphasis added throughout).
A closer examination of the Hebrew word toebah, here translated "abomination," can help us understand the depths of God's disgust with these practices. According to Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, the word toebah means "'abomination; loathsome, detestable thing' ... Toebah defines something or someone as essentially unique in the sense of being 'dangerous,' 'sinister,' and 'repulsive' to another individual ...
"When used with reference to God, this nuance of the word describes people, things, acts, relationships, and characteristics that are 'detestable' to Him because they are contrary to His nature. Things related to death and idolatry are loathsome to God ... People with habits loathsome to God are themselves detestable to Him ... Toebah is used in some contexts to describe pagan practices and objects" (1985, "Abomination").
Fundamentally, the occult and all things associated with it represent a way of life that undermines and competes with the godly character God wants His servants to develop. Those who seek God are instructed to place Him first in their lives. The first of the Ten Commandments requires allegiance to God: "I am the LORD your God who brought you out the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me" (Deuteronomy 5:6-7).
God, of course, has the power to right wrongs, judge people and ultimately offer eternal life. By contrast, what the occult offers is contrary to what God wants to give to us.
Some people argue that witchcraft is real and that it has inherent power. Why shouldn't we, they reason, use it for good purposes? God long ago responded in advance to these questions, stating: "For these nations which you will dispossess listened to soothsayers and diviners; but as for you, the LORD your God has not appointed such for you" (Deuteronomy 18:14). God has revealed a different and better path for those who would follow Him.
The Bible reveals that getting involved in "sorcery" ("witchcraft," KJV) is a "work of the flesh"—one of the evil ways to which human beings are naturally attracted apart from the knowledge of God (Galatians 5:17-20).
The practice of witchcraft is particularly offensive to God. It is openly defying Him. As He put it, "Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft" (1 Samuel 15:23). Dabbling in the occult provokes God to anger (2 Chronicles 33:6).
A particularly revealing example is found in the life of ancient Israel's King Saul in 1 Samuel 28. When faced with an army of Philistines, Saul decided to consult a medium—"that hath a familiar spirit" (verse 7, KJV)—one thought to have the ability to communicate with the dead. He asked the woman to conduct a séance for him, to conjure up the deceased prophet Samuel—and a supernatural encounter with the spirit world did indeed occur. Yet the chain of events turned out disastrously for Saul, and in the ensuing battle "Saul and his three sons died, and all his house died together" (1 Chronicles 10:6).
What was the reason for Saul's death? "So Saul died for his unfaithfulness which he had committed against the LORD, because he did not keep the word of the LORD, and also because he consulted a medium for guidance. But he did not inquire of the LORD; therefore He killed him, and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse" (verses 13—14). God obviously was not pleased with Saul for delving into the deceptive world of the occult.
Behind the magic
One question that often comes up in regard to the above story is whether the conjured being was truly the deceased prophet Samuel. The Bible repeatedly describes the current state of the dead as one of unconscious "sleep" (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10; Daniel 12:2; 1 Corinthians 11:30; 2 Peter 3:4). This means that there is no such thing as ghosts as they are commonly defined—the spirits of the dead still wandering the earth. But there certainly are spirit beings who can appear as ghostly apparitions. The Bible calls these beings unclean spirits, or demons. They are fallen angels, spirit beings who have rebelled against God under their leader, the archdemon Satan the devil.
As noted above, a medium is one who consults with "familiar spirits." Are these dead people? No. For we have seen that there is no consciousness in death.
Consider this question also: Why would God impose the death penalty for communicating with dead friends and relatives if that were really possible? One scholar explains: "The reason the death penalty was inflicted for consulting 'familiar spirits' is that these were 'evil spirits,' or fallen angels impersonating the dead ... God hardly could have prescribed the death penalty for communicating with the spirits of deceased loved ones if such spirits existed and if such a communication
"There is no moral reason for God to outlaw, on pain of death, the human desire to communicate with deceased loved ones. The problem is that such communication is impossible, because the dead are unconscious and do not communicate with the living. Any communication that occurs is not with the spirit of the dead, but with evil spirits" (Samuele Bacchiocchi, Immortality or Resurrection?, 1997, p. 168).
It is the same with all occult practices.
If someone could move an object with his mind by some innate telekinetic power within himself, why would using it merit the death penalty? Such a power could certainly be used for good—just like using your muscles to help someone in need. If we could fly like Superman through mental power, why would it be evil to do so? The real answer is that such things are humanly impossible—and that to truly perform them requires the help of demons, whether the occult practitioner is aware of it or not.
Some witches today practice "black magic." They are essentially satanists who know their powers are derived from demons. Yet there are also so—called "white witches"—adherents of Wicca who believe their powers are derived from within or from "positive spirit forces," including spirit forces within nature. Yet for the most part they are simply deceived. For in this case, too, any real supernatural power they manifest is demonic in origin. That's why all witches would have merited the death penalty under God's legal system. His Word reveals that it's all bad—it all involves communion with demons.
Indeed, Satan, the wicked fallen spirit who has deceived human beings from the beginning of man's history (Revelation 12:9), is the real power behind the occult. Our question should be: With whose power and authority will we align ourselves—that of Satan or God?
The real danger
Now back to Harry Potter. As stated earlier, he and his fictional friends bear only superficial resemblance to actual witches—of black or white magic. Indeed, the primary fault in these stories is a misidentification of a fictional concept as witchcraft. So just what is the danger in that?
One immediate problem is that the witches in the story are taught to use spells, incantations, magic potions and charms—at least in name. Though they are represented as operating in an entirely different manner from true witchcraft—and mature readers will recognize that it is all possible only because it occurs in a wholly fictional world of the imagination—nevertheless the glorifying of such practices in a fictional world can have a crossover into reality.
If we are not careful, we can be lulled into a greater acceptance of such practices in the real world. This is particularly true for young children, who have a hard time separating fantasy from reality. Even when children get a little older, they are still extremely impressionable.
No doubt some children, influenced by fantasy stories, will be attracted to participate in the occult. Perhaps some innocent Harry Potter devotees will succumb to the notion that witchcraft is noble and later seek to become Wiccans or join covens. They will, of course, discover that it is not at all like what is portrayed in the stories, but by then they will have become immersed in it.
Or consider children who, fed on a steady diet of supernatural fantasy, begin to believe that they need to find their own "power within"—and begin unwittingly communing with demons.
Though no one likes to spoil children's participation in activities that are popular and fun, we parents must have the courage to properly guide our children—even if it means resisting widespread public opinion in the process. When our children's emotional, intellectual and spiritual well—being is threatened, we have a God—given responsibility not to look the other way.
God charges parents with the responsibility of teaching their children His values (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). Parents need to warn their children against the falsehood of the occult.
Yet here lies perhaps the greatest danger of all. So many parents are so devoid of God's truth that they themselves believe it is possible for people to have supernatural powers deriving from their own minds. They themselves do not understand that such powers are demonic in origin. How, then, can they be expected to warn their children of the danger of stumbling headlong into spiritism?
Besides their own parents, many other figures that children look to for guidance—teachers, parents of friends, celebrities and the like—are all confused too. As victims of, and participants in, a society that is drifting farther and farther from God, they only perpetuate the error. As time goes on, more and more of our children are experimenting with the spirit world.
If you have never realized the actual power behind the occult, it's important that you study God's Word and prove this for yourself. For it is His Word that reveals the truth.
Given the choice between the two great value systems this world offers—God's or Satan's—why not choose the one that offers your children the greatest reward? Why not select the one for you and your children that leads to eternal life? Don't your children deserve the best? GN