‘Occultism in Harry Potter – The Movies’ By: Savana Christy
Manipal University – Dubai School Of Media and Communication Academic Tutor: Mr. Sabir Haque
Abstract: The topic chosen for the purpose of this research covers the opinions, and beliefs of people concerning the Harry Potter movie series. Being a major part of a lot of children’s fantasy and childhood, Harry Potter books and movies have a serious impact on its audiences. A lot of religious scholars, as well as concerned parents have questioned the theme, and plot governing the series. With witchcraft and wizardry as the main focus of the series, occultism is a term that is often times associated with Harry Potter. In the most common sense, occultism is referred to anything that is said to be supernatural. From witches, to wizards and vampires, the occult has a wide range of fictional characters that come under its domain. Most experts would argue that the Harry Potter series, although a huge sensation among the youth, have major connections to the occult and hence it isn’t the most appropriate for children. Then again, there are those who consider the series a masterpiece of creativity, and a really good outlet that allow children’s imaginations to run wild. This research paper will examine the occult symbolism in Harry Potter, with particular examination of the first 3 movies. This paper is an analysis of the Genesis of the series and by the end, we will question if there is more to the ‘boy who lived’.
Introduction The World of Harry Potter is a constant battle between good and evil. The adventures undertaken by the protagonist of the series often lead to mystical and untraveled paths filled with danger and curiosity. However there might be a deeper meaning underneath the innocence of it all. Some might even argue that the series encourages and captivates children to follow occultism by glamorizing witchcraft. [CITATION Cat \l 16393 ]. One of the reasons why people find the Potter world a little threatening is because of the stage in which it is set. J.K Rowling does not turn to imaginative realms, to set her characters in, rather she chooses a very real and existing London. This creates a whole lot of possibilities for children to actually believe in the magical world, and don’t have clear boundaries between reality and fiction [ CITATION Lan02 \l 16393 ]. This coupled with the authors sense of humor, and school boy sort of innocence, grabs the attention of children very quickly.[ CITATION Lan02 \l 16393 ]. The series appeals to a large number of contemporary readers, who share the same attitudes and beliefs. [ CITATION NOR07 \l 16393 ] Besides the speculation from religious leaders and scholars, there are a few who appreciate the work of J.K Rowling as a good example, and a creative release for children. Apart from the occultism connected to the series, it is also viewed as setting good examples with morals like friendship, sacrifice, family, and honor being brought out throughout the course of the series. [ CITATION ROB04 \l 16393 ] During the course of this research paper, I will be identifying various connections that the movies have with the occult world, and how ancient occult principles are prevalent in the first three movies of the Harry Potter series.
Review of Literature With the final movie of the Harry Potter series crossing one billion dollars in ticket sales, [ CITATION Kay11 \l 16393 ] it is safe to say that the franchise is more than just a series. With the release of “ Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” (the adaptation of the first book) Harry Potter gained a whole new set of fans. The Books of the series on the other hand, according to the Guardian [ CITATION Dam08 \l 16393 ] have been translated in 67 different languages, and with 450 Million books printed worldwide (according to Time Magazine in 2013). The Harry Potter sensation carries under its domain a large variety of merchandise, major companies fighting for advertising rights, and most of all, a massive fan following. All this coverage, is bound to catch the attention of both fans and critics worldwide. In my opinion, the coverage and hype provided by the media largely contributes to the popularity of the series. With advancement in graphic technology, the ability to create anything form your wildest imagination is very achievable. This allows a wide range of fictional characters to come to life, and place themselves in very realistic situations. [ CITATION Hja08 \l 16393 ]. The Supernatural world has placed itself in the real world, by acquiring richness, and texture to all its aspects. The harry potter movie series was directed and shot on natural sets and real locations with graphics being used for the supernatural elements.[ CITATION Rus11 \l 16393 ] This may blur the lines between reality and the metaphysical world, considering that majority of the audiences are children. Critics believe that Rowling has crafted a supernatural world that has the ability to captivate her audiences while drawing out parallels and manifesting 'evil' in her work [ CITATION Les01 \l 1033 ]. The Harry Potter theme has stark resemblance to other literary works by C.S Lewis and J.R.R.Tolkien. However they are treated very differently from series like ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ and ‘The Lord of The Rings’. Author Richard Abanes examines these three works of children’s literature and attempts to uncover hidden references, particularly in the books. Harry Potter does receive different treatment because of how magic is portrayed in the series, with Abanes implying that children can get easily influenced and gain knowledge to occult practices. [ CITATION RIC15 \l 16393 ]. He also questions what is relevant in fictional books, and what crosses the lines and becomes a threat. If children are able to access information that will allow them to replicate what they see in books or movies, it can lead them to gain easy access to inappropriate information. [ CITATION RIC15 \l 16393 ] With references to astrology, clairvoyance and numerology, the Harry Potter series is viewed as threatening. However Rowling did justify that Hogwarts is a multi-faith school.[ CITATION Cen15 \l 1033 ].
What makes up the Occult? From time immortal Occultism has shaped belief systems, identified a culture and has been a part of major movements and events. Contrary to the picture portrayed by mainstream media, the occult world has the ability to manifest and alter perception to an extent that often molds and shapes people's lives. What can be categorized as occult usually tend to take people by surprise the reason being, they do not fully understand the meaning of the term. Ignorance often leads to misconceptions which invites an attitude of fear, and deception [ CITATION Eri01 \l 1033 ]. Occultism typically involves the use of supernatural forces, beliefs and practices. It also to a large extent invokes powers of divination and sorcery to obtain a desired outcome. In the most literal terms, occult is used to describe anything that is hidden or unknown. The most common associations made with occultism include the practice of magic,
and anything supernatural [CITATION Cat15 \l 16393 ]. Experts argue that the study of occultism is considered a science and not something that free – spirited people indulge in. [ CITATION Cat15 \l 16393 ] [ CITATION Ben13 \l 16393 ]. Another term linked to the occult is ‘New Age’. This refers to a study and field of practice that has more to do with the interconnectivity of things. Fields like astrology, divination, psychic practices, clairvoyance, power crystals, numerology etc. come under the domain of the occult. [ CITATION Cat15 \l 16393 ]. In an article written by T. Subba Row, describes the nature of occultism and justifies its roots saying that in the rawest form, it is derived from the elements of nature. The article also states that every individual has the ability and capacity to attain control of these powers that are innate in him. [ CITATION TSu01 \l 16393 ] Listed below are fields of study that come under the ideology of occultism. These branches are studied and practiced by individuals from all corners of the globe.
Divination Right from the begging of time people have always questioned what their future holds, and in the process have employed the use of a number of divination techniques.[ CITATION Jam \l 16393 ] The Fundamental principal of divination is the ability to foretell future events by supernatural or magical means [ CITATION Kit04 \l 16393 ] . It is considered a magical art that employs the use of numerous objects that typically range from Tarot cards, reading into omens, usage of talismans etc. [ CITATION Spr15 \l 16393 ]. This is done in the belief that divine assistance will manipulate the objects and provide insight to the future for the seeker. [ CITATION Ker11 \l 16393 ] Methods of Divination may also vary drastically and stretch form reading tea leaf patterns (also known as tasseography) , studying flight patterns of birds,(Ornithomancy), numerology, astrology, Scrying (typically using a crystal ball to read into the future) etc. [ CITATION Met15 \l 16393 ]. To a lot, the whole process of divination is more scientific than metaphysical. By tapping into your sub-consciousness, one has the ability to decipher and interpret things purely based on past experiences, thereby making assumptions of the future. In simple terms, using your mind to see the past present and future. [ CITATION Lad99 \l 16393 ]. There are three basic types of divination. Intuitive, possession, and wisdom. Intuitive is more to do with a gut feeling, or a sudden suspicion about something. This can be seen in spiritual leaders, saints, etc. Possession divination is when an entity takes control to bring across a message usually the entity is a non-human or a supernatural being that reveals information about something hidden. Possession divination can also be seen in interpretation of omens or signs (also known as Augury) for instance a black cat crossing the road, or a howling dog is considered bad.
Alchemy Dating back to 1050 CE,[ CITATION The11 \l 16393 ] Alchemy can be given credit for the genesis of modern day chemistry. The basis of Alchemy is transformation be it metals or the Human soul [ CITATION Alc15 \l 16393 ]. Early pioneers in the art believed that through Alchemy nature was provided an outlet through which her secrets could be revealed. Humans were given an opportunity to interact with nature and harness its wide spectrum of powers. [ CITATION The11 \l 16393 ]. The origins of Alchemy can be traced back to regions of China and Egypt, although both developed independently. To provide a proper definition of the term may be a bit of a challenge, as it combines both the teaching of logical and mystical sciences. Early Alchemists were accused of sorcery and witchcraft simply because they failed to
give a logical explanation for the acts they performed. Most of them would disguise terms and findings with names that did not make sense, only because they believed that the art should reveal itself to the people that were worthy. Alchemy revolved around the art of transmutation. That is, transforming base metals into pure gold and silver since it was considered the most pure of all metals. Alchemist worked very closely with astrology as they believed that astronomical bodies had a link to metals known to man [ CITATION Alc15 \l 16393 ]. An entity that demanded a lot of attention back in the day was the Philosophers stone that was thought to be made of a substance called ‘Carnot’. Alchemists were on a never-ending quest to attain this element that was believed to have mystical powers and would bring enlightenment upon the maker. [ CITATION Ell14 \l 16393 ]
Spiritism For most people, the world of the dead is a place that harvests a bunch of energies that have moved on from this life to the next. Call it a blatant waste of time or desperate efforts to contact the deceased, Spiritism or spritist are individuals that are very existent in today's world. The main motive governing spiritism is to connect with entities that can include people who have died. [ CITATION Mat \l 1033 ] This ancient form of occultism was initially found in cultures of the Egyptian, Greek and Roman. [ CITATION SAl06 \l 1033 ] . Spititist believe in the existence of a God and that all creation is a product of his works. However, they do not view a specific individual or entity as God. Rather they recognize the existence of a creator. The major theory of this belief system revolves around the presence of two worlds, the visible and the invisible. The visible being the one we inhabit, and the invisible is referred to the realm of the deceased. The philosophy of the study deals with receiving communication from the ‘other’ side [ CITATION Int \l 16393 ]The essence of spiritism is to achieve spiritual and physical health which is done by works of charity, studying books and communicating with spirits [ CITATION Mar \l 16393 ]. The process is called mediumship and usually employs the use of Ouija boards and séances, or even through people (referred to as mediums). Mediumship is believed to help in establishing relationships with the dead in order to decipher messages they wish to share with us. It also includes the ability for people to sense the presence of a sprit. [ CITATION Med \l 16393 ].
Witchcraf This age old practice has bared witness to the creation of a lot of followers as well as seen the demise of a number of individuals. The reign of witchcraft is as ancient as the Human civilization itself. In Early times, women that possessed a knack for curing illness using natural remedies were seen as higher beings that had special abilities. When they were seeking answers from a higher power in the form of chants and rituals, the whole process was termed as witchcraft. [ CITATION Ori14 \l 16393 ]. However society’s image and the nature of witchcraft has changed with time. The practice soon was recognized and given various terms to represent specific branches. Some of them include traditional witchcraft, green witchcraft, Wicca etc. [ CITATION Lee \l 16393 ]. During the course of history, witchcraft and its flowers have taken a serious beating. The most notable instance recorded was in 1692 in the village of Salem, Massachusetts. A group of local women were accused of witchcraft and as a result were persecuted. [ CITATION His15 \l 16393 ]. The witch trials sky rocketed during the 16 th and 17th centuries in
Europe, with it peaking from 1550 – 1630. [ CITATION Ala14 \l 16393 ]. The witch hunts involved extreme torture, and public persecutions to extract ‘confessions’ from the accused, which included hanging and burning of the victims. Today, witchcraft can broadly be categorized based in traditions that are passed on from an elder to the follower. These traditions enumerate the basis and the theory governing each form. They include, Classical, gothic and Neo-Pagan witchcraft. [ CITATION Lad09 \l 16393 ]
From the findings and theories observed in the above literature review, there is a lot of criticism and scrutiny on the series being an advocate for occultism. However, it does not give valid evidence of whether the series is responsible, or capable of steering an individual to the dark side
Objectives of study The following are the objectives behind this research paper.
To pick out instances of Occultism in the first 3 Harry Potter Movie series. To analyze the development of the series, with each progressing movie, and determine recurring occult themes.
This research paper is a qualitative analysis of the Harry Potter movie series. For the purpose of this research paper, different instances of occultism that occur during the course of the first 3 movies will be analyzed. A content analysis of the movies will be carried out that will help establish the occult references the movies include. This study will examine the various occult concepts included in the first three movies. A conceptual content analysis method will be adopted to list out and examine the occult references in the series. The variables selected for the purpose of analysis is based on a review of literature by existing works in the same/similar field. What will be considered ‘occult?’ 1. Fortune Telling: the use of instruments like talismans, crystal balls, magic portions to tell the future or fate of an individual. 2. Divination: The method of using sings, symbols, and occurrences to foresee the future. Eg; reading tea leaves.
3. Use of spells: reciting ‘enchanted text’ to carry out desired actions. 4. Invocation of Sprits/ conversing with the deceased: Making any communication in any way, or even acknowledging the presence of a person/individual that is dead. 5. Alchemy: Transforming something ordinary into something extraordinary. 6. Astrology: using the formation of astronomical bodies that have links to the Human world. 7. Time Travel: When individuals move to different points in space by using different instruments that facilitate time travel. 8. Possession/ Shape shifting
Findings Analysis of Movies. This is a pilot analysis that will examine the first three Harry Potter movies, and will identify the occult connection in the movie. The incidences will be justified and marked according to what is perceived as traditional occult practices in today’s world. 1. Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone
Sl no. 1.
Introducing the character of Professor Mcgonagall. What looks like a common house cat, soon takes the shape of a woman.
Witchcraft, Shape shifting, spells
Shape-shifting is the process of people turning into animals. Common instances include lycanthropy, vampirism, and in this case, transformation is in the form of a cat. Shape shifting is commonly facilitated by witchcraft.
Diagonally Here, Harry and Rubeus Hagrid goes to Diagon Alley to get supplies.
Witchcraft, occult artifacts
Diagonally hosts a number of occult artifacts like magical wands, flying broomsticks, spell books, enchanted creatures like Goblins, etc.
Hogwarts school of Magic The movie takes us to the heart of all things magic. This school is an old enchanted castle that houses everyone from students to teachers, and even resident ghosts.
Everything about Hogwarts practically functions with the help of magical spells. From floating candles hovering below the ceiling, to food magically appearing on the table. Spiritism can also be seen when the students interact with the
resident ghosts and sprits of the school. 4.
Enchanted Mirror, the ‘Mirror of Erised’ Harry Potter finds himself face to face with an enchanted mirror that shows people what they desire the most.
By portraying what people want the most, this scene draws direct parallels to divination which is the art of viewing unforeseen events.
The Philosopher’s Stone The entire movie revolves around the theory of the Philosophe’s stone.
This is a direct reference to the ancient legend of the alchemists and the stone. The movie also talks about the elixir of fife, and the powers of the stone. There is also mention of Nicholas Flamel who is thought to be an ancient alchemist that discovered the formation of the stone, and attained immortality. [ CITATION Reg \l 16393 ]
The 1998 movie directed by Christopher Columbus captivated a huge audience and initiated the beginning for an entire saga. The whole series is themed on witchcraft and wizardry and contains heavy occult references. The movie introduces us to the world of magic and all that it contains. With shapeshifting, witches, wizards, secret alleys, goblins, enchanted forests etc., occult themes serve as the backbone for the plot. However these references come across as harmless and are shown in a very imaginative and innocent light. To begin with the director introduces us to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This old enchanted castle is home to a number of students and teachers (not to mention creatures) of the wizarding world. The school teaches and encourages witchcraft. Magic spells, dark arts, three headed dogs etc. are all in a day’s work for the folks at Hogwarts. As the name suggests, the first part of the series revolves around the Philosopher’s stone and the elixir of life and serves as a direct reference to alchemy. The movie also has strong associations with Nicholas Flamel who back in the day was a real alchemist. We are introduced to a number of mystical characters, one of them being the sorting hat. This hat has the ability to read and examine minds (telepathy) and is able to place students in their appropriate houses. As the plot progresses, other occult themes like divination and Spritism, comes into play. The castle hosts a large number of ghost or trapped souls of Humans. These sprits are portrayed harmless and have a lot of interaction with everyone on campus (like ‘Nearly Headless Nick’). However, the fact still remains that there is interaction with the metaphysical world. This movie introduces us to a glorified and dressed up world of witchcraft and is very inviting to all those who do not see past the innocence of the series.
2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
Sl. No. 1.
Movie Scene Dobby the House elf
Occult References Witchcraft
Remarks Dobby is a mystical creature that is capable of spells and performing magic. He has the ability to teleport and disappear.
Floo Powder When at the Wesleyâ€™s Harry and his friends find their way to Diagonally by using a mystical powder that has the ability to teleport people. And, Tom Riddleâ€™s book The diary of wizard Tom Riddle teleports Harry 50 years back, to see what unfolded.
Witchcraft, Teleportation, Divination
Teleportation is the process of transferring people or objects in different instances of time
Herbology is a very big part of witchcraft where individuals harness the power of herbs and plants.
Defense against the dark arts
The defense against the dark arts class as the name
The Diary consumes everything Harry writes, and responds back to his questions. After a brief conversation, the diary physically teleports Harry 50 years in the past to witness events.
suggests deals with dark magic. 5.
Parseltongue AKA snake language Harry Potter talks to a snake when facing off with Draco Malfoy
Harry Potter has the ability to communicate with snakes. This ability is considered innate in a person.
Moaning Myrtle Resident ghost girl moaning Myrtle inhabits the girls lavatory
All the members of Hogwarts has the ability to communicate with ghosts and sprits. She provides them with information on the chamber of secrets.
Polyjuice Potion A mystical portion prepared by Hermione that gives them the ability to physically change into Draco’s friends Crabbe and Goyle
The protagonists of the movie conjures up a magical portion that allows them to shapeshift.
Ginny Weasley gets possessed by Tom Riddle’s Sprit
A student from the school gets possessed by an ancient wizard named Tom Riddle who makes his host function on his behalf. She has no control over what she does and in the process puts the entire school of Hogwarts at stake.
In this next segment, things get a little more serious and the protagonists of the show find themselves yet again on a quest to save the school. The Chamber of Secrets is filled with excitement, adventure, and is even more luring. Here, besides the common theme of witchcraft and performing magic, other prevalent occult themes include possession, Herbology, and Teleportation. The very begging of the movie introduces us to yet another enchanted creature of the magical world, Dobby. He is a helper Elf that attempts to warn Harry Potter of impending danger. This skinny, scared, and insecure little guy doesn’t seem like much of a threat however he packages occult abilities of magic and teleportation. Other instances of teleportation include the use of fly powder to transport to Diagon Alley, and when Harry travels 50 years in the past to witness a conversation between Hagrid and Tom Riddle. Another form of witchcraft called Herbology (taut by Pomona Sprout) plays a very important role in curing those who have been petrified by Slytherin’s monster the Basilisk. She employs the use of Mandrake Roots to whip up a concoction. In this movie, interaction with beings of the metaphysical
world still persists and we are introduced to another resident ghost moaning Myrtle. A new theme that is introduced in the series is possession. Ginny Weasley is possessed by the spirit of Tom Riddle, to open the chamber of secrets. Like all cases of possession, Ginny has no control over her actions and puts the lives of a number of people at stake. Other magical creatures that are included in the movie are fox the phoenix, Argog the giant spider, Cornish Pixies, screaming Mandrakes, giant snakes, to name a few.
3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Sl No: 1.
Movie Scene Harry casts a spell on his aunt. When aunt Marge comes to the Dursley’s to visit, Harry casts a spell on her that causes her to bloat up and float away.
Occult Reference Witchcraft, Magic, Spells
Remarks This scene shows how Harry is able to administer his form of punishment to the woman that insulted his parents. Here witchcraft is shown in a righteous manner, with a little humor added to it.
Magic bus for stranded witches and wizards. Harry leaves home in fit of rage and finds himself stranded on a sidewalk when a magic bus comes to his rescue
The scene shows us a bus that is capable of travelling extremely fast and is invisible to muggles (people that are not a part of the magical world.)
Dementors Dark magic, They are guards of Azkaban and are on the hunt for escaped convict Serious Black. Dementors are extremely dangerous and are known to be ruthless.
Demento’s are representative of everything negative, and are the embodiment of death itself. They possess very dark magic, and have the ability to suck people’s souls.
Divination class held by Professor Divination, Trelawney. Scrying This class teaches students the art of divination using tealeaves (tasseography) Professor Trelawney gets possessed. Possession When Harry goes to return a crystal ball, professor Trelawney is taken over by
The scene explains what divination is, and how reading tealeaf patterns can predict ones future.
Professor Trelawney clearly gets possessed by an entity that is delivering some sort of
some force, and approaching death.
message. She acts as a medium.
Professor Trelawney talks about the Divination, Omen The Grimm is representative Grimm of Death of evil. Harry’s teacup symbolizes the Grimm and hence impending death.
Professor Lupin and Serious Black Both Lupin and Serious revel their true selves, and succumb to their
Time Travel Time Travel, Harry and Hermione travel back in time Teleportation. to help save Serious Black and Buckbeak.
With Serious Black an Animagus, and Lupin a Werewolf, they have the ability to shapeshift into animals. Hermione is gifted a time travel device by professor Mcgonagall which she uses to get to different spaces of time.
Things take a dark turn in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. All kid gloves were off and the movie hosts very heavy concepts that to a certain extent demand a slightly mature audience. Along with development of the plot, there is also development with the extent of occultism portrayed in the movies. The most prevalent theme for this movie revolves around shapeshifting where characters like the werewolf, Animagus, Boggarts etc. come into play. There is also emphasis on time travel and teleportation. Divination is seen as a common theme in the first three movies. With the third movie however, the concrete concept of tealeaf reading (tasseography) is shown. The movie shows how to interpret different symbols and make predictions about your future. Another concept that is described is possession. Unlike the second movie, possession is shown at a whole new level. When professor Trelawney acts as a mediator, she has no control or idea of what she is saying and there is clear distinctions in her voice. This movie also introduces us to very dark creatures known as Dementors. They are guards of Azkaban (a prison designed to lock the most deviant witches and wizards) and have the capability to suck ones soul out. Dementors feed of painful memories of the person, and are known to be unforgiving and ruthless. Across all three movies, enchanted creatures always have a bit of a part to play, and for this segment a ‘Hippogriff’ named Buckbeak comes on set. He is a mystical being that is part horse and part eagle. To conclude, the third movie really broadens its horizons towards the world of the occult.
Despite the all the arguments put forth by individuals, Harry Potter still remains to this date on of the most successful franchises to ever exist. The first three movies of the series together have claimed more than 7 billion dollars. With every new release, Harry Potter rose to fame and captivated new audiences. From the above analysis it is evident that occultism is a prevalent theme that governs the series. Witchcraft is glorified to an extent that has the ability to entice and captivate people. It is deceiving to a certain extent and the practice is shown in a light that is very different from the reality of witchcraft. The degree of witchcraft also progresses with each advancing sequel and more genres of the practice is brought to light. Another common ground that all three movies seem to have is the use of mystical creatures. From goblins, helper elves, three headed dogs, hippogriffs, to man-eating textbooks the series portrays an array of creatures whose roots and existence revolves around magic. As discussed earlier the movies employ the four major occult themes of divination, witchcraft, alchemy and spiritism in numerous occasions. Although the attempt of this paper tries to link occult practices and the moves, there are aspects in the paper that do not thoroughly explain the statement. This paper analyzes different occult themes that are present in the first three movies of the Harry Potter series. However, it fails to give a detailed description of the progression of occultism across the three movies. The analysis done is rudimentary and very basic, but provides scope for future study. Also the paper views the series in a negative light and does not pay too much attention to the benefits the series has toward its audience.
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Occultism in Harry Potter - Research Paper