HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX: FLYING ON FEEBLE WINGS

By Marcia Montenegro (page 2 of 4)

Written April, 2004

Death and Other Dark Items

As with the other books, this fifth book has numerous references to death and the danger of death. Of course, this is not abnormal in an adventure book, but should death be so prominent in a book aimed at children ages 9-12? Many would say that death is a part of life and that this is, after all, just fiction. However, Biblically speaking, we know that death is not a part of life, it was a consequence of sin (see Genesis 2:17, 3:19; Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:21) and will one day be vanquished into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14)

I began to list the pages that referred to death or to someone dying, but finally wearied of this task as the references became too numerous. I managed to mark these pages: 8, 18, 85, 92, 100, 112, 161, 173-176, 328, 446 ("The only people who can see thestrals . . . are people who have seen death"), 455, 535, 536, 546, 550, 806 (Sirius dies), 844, 856, and 863. On pages 173-175, Harry is viewing photographs shown to him by Moody of people who were killed, and comments are made, some rather grim: "Benjy Fenwick, he copped it, too, we only ever found bits of him;" "it took five Death Eaters to kill him and his brother Fabian;" and "the Longbottoms, who had been tortured into madness . . . all waving happily out of the photograph forevermore, not knowing that they were doomed." Boggarts, creatures that can look like others, appear to Mrs. Weasley as dead members of her family, causing her to believe she is viewing actual dead people (176). Harry is told by Dumbledore that the there is a prophecy that for Voldemort and Harry, "neither can live while the other survives" (844). Luna's mother is dead because one of her (the mother's) spells "went rather badly wrong one day" (863).

Some of the disturbing accounts other than death that are woven throughout the book are: The students learn to make a potion that relaxes, but if not made correctly, it can cause "irreversible" sleep (232); a ghost "leans through" Neville (207); Harry writes in blood (267, 270); several references are made to blood dripping from Harry (274); butterbeer, a favored drink among the students, is alcoholic (387) and is even served by an adult, Sirius, to young Harry, Ron, and Ginny, and to slightly older teens Fred and George (477); Harry seems to be psychically possessed by Voldemort in the form of a snake (462-63, 474, 481, 491); Harry and Hermione are showered with blood from Hagrid's sibling, Grawp (759); and Harry questions the ghost Headless Nick about where one goes after death, but the only response is that some wizards can leave a pale "imprint" of themselves on earth as a ghost, and that other dead ones are beyond a veil and can be heard by some (860-861, 863).

Occult Practices: Prophets, Psychics, and Spells

The most comprehensive list of occult practices occurs in Deuteronomy 18:10-12, where God reveals his hatred of occult practices and forbids them. These practices were done in conjunction with the worship of false gods. Today, many dabble in the occult out of sheer curiosity or for fun, but whatever the intentions, such practices are dangerous, and are evil in God's eyes. Some have defended these practices in the books because there is no attempt to make contact with a god or supernatural power. However, this view neglects the fact that whether one wants to make such contact or not, contact can be made, and often is, even when one is not expecting it. Aside from this, when God calls something detestable or an abomination, we can easily conclude that no one is to participate for any reason.

The list in this passage of Deuteronomy includes casting spells, divination, spirit contact, contacting the dead, witchcraft (meaning practicing occult arts), sorcery, and seeking and reading omens. The Hebrew terms for these practices are descriptive rather than being labels; so various English versions may use different words for the same practice. One translation puts it this way: "one who practices divination, an omen reader, a soothsayer, a sorcerer, one who casts spells, one who conjures up spirits, a practitioner of the occult, or a necromancer" (NET Bible, 372; online at www.netbible.org). The footnote on casting spells states that in Hebrew this is literally "a binder of binding," with the connotation that one is immobilizing or binding someone by using magical words. As pointed out in my article on the first Harry Potter book, Harry's friends use a "body-bind" spell on a friend to keep him from following them (273). In that article, I also pointed out that a binding spell is found in the Farrar's A Witches' Bible.

The NET Bible gives selected verses elsewhere (not a comprehensive list) where the practices from this passage are mentioned, sometimes translated differently according to context (such as "incantations" and "amulets" used to ward off evil). For divination, see Numbers 22:7, 23:23; Joshua 13:22; 1 Sam 6:2, 15:23; 28:8. For an omen reader, see Leviticus 19:26, Judges 9:37, 2 Kings 21:6; Isaiah 2:6, 57:3, Jeremiah 27:9; Micah 5:11. For a seeker of omens (often translated as "soothsayer"), it refers to Gen. 44:5 (the divining cup in the Joseph story, which does not mean Joseph used it, but it was used in that culture). For a sorcerer, passages are Leviticus 19:26-31; 2 Kings 17:15-17, 21:1-7; Isaiah 57:3. For casting spells, see Psalms 58:6 and Isaiah 47:9, 12. For conjuring up spirits (asking of the dead), Leviticus 19:31, 20:6; 1 Samuel 28:8, 9; Isaiah 8:19, 19:3, and 29:4 are referred to. For a practitioner of the occult, see Leviticus 19:31, 20:6, 27; 1 Samuel 28:3, 9; 2 Kings 21:6; Isaiah 8:19, and 19:3. For a necromancer, 1 Samuel 28:6-7 is referenced. In many cases, several terms refer to the same practices. Intentions and fine distinctions between the practices do not matter; entering into this territory is to cross a line God has clearly drawn in the sand.

Hogwarts, however, teaches many of these practices and Harry is learning them: divination, charms, casting spells, and potions (magical potions which are used in conjunction with spells); and in some of the books, children arm themselves with talismans and amulets for protection (notably, the second book, page 185). Divinatory practices include the children or Harry learning astrology, runes, arithmancy, tea leaf reading, and scrying (gazing into a surface such as a mirror, crystal, or water). This fifth book mentions that children will be tested in their skills with the crystal ball, tea leaf reading, arithmancy, theory of charms, astrology, divination by burning herbs and leaves, incantations, wands, potions, the Ancient Runes, and palmistry (225, 232, 552, 600, 602, 603, 654, 709, 711-712, 715-717). Hermione excitedly receives a Christmas gift from Harry that she has been wanting -- a book on numerology (503). Some people have made much of the fact that Christmas is "celebrated" in the books, but it is clearly not being celebrated in a Christian fashion. In an earlier book, the lyrics of Christmas songs are substituted with rude words, and here we have a numerology book as a Christmas gift. This is not evidence for a Christian meaning of Christmas.

It is often pointed out that divination is made fun of in the books, and this is true. But, however much Divination Professor Trelawney is made to look foolish, some of her predictions come true; and at the end of the book when Ron is criticizing divination, we read: "'How can you say that?'Hermione demanded. ‘After we've just found out that there are real prophecies?'" (849). Indeed, the prophecy that is revealed at the end of the book and on which the whole plot of the book is turning, was made by Trelawney (841). These are not Biblical prophecies, but prophecies made through divination. God condemns this kind of prophecy: "So don't listen to your prophets or to those who claim to predict the future by divination, by dreams, by consulting the dead, or by practicing magic" (Jeremiah 27:9a). God spoke through prophets whom he chose, and, furthermore, the test of a prophet was that predictions would be 100 percent accurate (Deuteronomy 18:20-22). Even if prophets give true predictions but call people to follow gods other than the true God, one is to reject them (Deuteronomy 13:1-3).

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