Once upon a time, there lived a boy not like most children. He loved his homework, had an owl for a pet and rode a flying broomstick.
He captured the hearts and imaginations of millions of readers around the world, but little did he know, that secretly a dark force was after him — a group so bent on fear and twisted ideals, they would stop at nothing until he was silenced. And these people were called…
Ever since their publication, the Harry Potter books have been met with criticism from some that they are too dark and violent for children.
Obviously, this is something each parent needs to decide for themselves, but before labeling something unfit for your child, it's important to ask a few questions first.
What is it that makes parents view certain forms of entertainment as inappropriate?
If it's a matter of degree, the Potter series absolutely features death, fighting, and people with twisted morals and a thirst for sadism, dominance and fear. But the types of violence and dark themes in Harry Potter are not only meant to illustrate the struggle between good and evil, but are also present in any number of stories and films that have drawn far less scrutiny, if any at all.
If it's a matter of age appropriation, this is once again something parents need to decide for their children. The beauty part of stories with themes of death, destruction and the villains who favor them, is that it affords parents the perfect opportunity to explain these concepts to their children, as well as the differences between them. If a child has a negative reaction to a particular image or concept, they may be too young to understand it. But simply censoring them without reason closes more doors than they open, and will only discourages children's understanding and desire to have an open dialogue with their parents and guardians.
Ultimately, true good or evil is within each and every one of us — the ability to do good or to do harm. If we can't even acknowledge the fact that we each have a degree of darkness within us, bring it into the light, and feel free to discuss it, how can we ever understand it? There's more danger to children in being ignorant and illiterate than being unimaginative.
Others have objected to the Harry Potter books citing false worship and promotion of witchcraft.
This raises the excellent question, where does the aversion to a benign view of practitioners of magic come from?
Or simply put: why do we think of witches as evil? Whenever we hear the word "witch," it often conjures up an image of a wart-faced, cackling hag with a pointy black hat on a flying broomstick. Why is this?
This image became common in Europe during various witch hunts and inquisitions between the 15th and 18th Centuries. Though depictions of witches and wizards wearing brimless conical hats go centuries back, the negative stigma attached to them was likely derived from the Dunce's Cap made popular during the Renaissance. The flying broom is a creative interpretation of a witch's broom, or besom, an altar item used to "sweep away" negative energy. As for the visage of the witch herself, this is a combination of the characteristics of the crone of folklore and the defamation of their accusers.
There is a big difference between the witches of fiction and those referred to as witches in the real world.
Quite obviously, the innumerable works of fiction produced through the years have provided a variety of characters identified as witches; some good, some bad. However, these popular images resonate, and have been the source of some confusion about what it is that real witches do.
Distaste and apprehension toward witches goes back as far as the Roman Empire where magical practices were banned if they were intended to do harm. However, it wasn't until the emergence of Christian dominance that these concepts became viewed as evil via accusations of worship of and collusion with the Devil.
It makes one wonder just how the Harry Potter series would have gone if instead of the boy hero being forbidden to do magic was not because it was nonsense, not because it was dangerous, but because it was evil.
It would not be a far stretch of the imagination to picture Harry's nasty Uncle Vernon brandishing the Holy Bible, shouting "I'LL NOT HAVE THIS DEVIL WORSHIP IN MY HOUSE!"
And Harry responding, "Who?"
Witches were not, and are not in league with the Devil because he simply does not exist in their belief structure. It would be like saying to Muslims that the reason they fast during Ramadan is because the Flying Spaghetti Monster only visits Earth at night.
The religions and philosophies that govern the majority of magical practitioners are independent belief systems with their own gods and goddesses. Ironically, our image today of the Devil as a winged, goat-human hybrid with horns and a pitchfork likely spawned from such Pagan figures as Poseidon, Pan and the "Horned God" of various names.
When not in cahoots with the Prince of Darkness, the accusation of false worship refers to the perception that witches worship deities that are, in essence, false. Obviously, the same could be said for any god or deity of any religion upheld by anyone; so we shall just have to use our heads.
As for magic itself, I think we can all agree that flying broomsticks and turning people into toads are the stuff of storybooks. But there is basis in reality for certain practices associated with witchcraft, such as blessing, scrying, spell-casting, herbal or natural healing and remedies and communion with the spirit world.
And while these activities may seem bizarre to some, how outlandish are they really from well-known, graspable religious practices such as fasting, praying, meditation, exorcism and sabbaths?
Also, in the olden days groups or individuals who rejected or simply didn't believe in God as the one and only, were branded heretics or infidels, which was quite literally equated with the Old Scratch himself. Even within ideologies, fragmentations have led to regards as "devils". There was a time when Protestants were seen as such to Catholics, and vice versa.
It's not much of a mystery why a group of people with separate beliefs than those of Christianity came to be regarded as servants of the Devil.
Another possible source for the malevolent view of witches comes from the story of the Watchers in the Book of Enoch.
As the story goes, a group of angels charged with watching over the humans (something the Almighty apparently couldn't handle for some reason), fell in love with and married mortal women and thus were disowned by God.
Though some wouldn't make the distinction, there is a clear difference between being an outcast and siding with the Bad Guy.
The Watchers eventually taught what was known as the forbidden knowledge — the methods of combining different elements, harnessing energy and constructing previously non-existent forms — to their wives and progeny. Essentially, this was considered taboo because these things were meant to be discovered by mankind gradually, not all at once. These were said to be the foundations of not only magic, but also art, science, technology, astrology, medicine, weaponry, cosmetics, and writing.
It's worth noting that the Book of Enoch is not considered official Biblical canon, therefore has no real place in Christendom and certainly not in secular society.
However, one can't help but wonder if in the story, God forbade these wonders because he feared what mankind would do with them, the ways the greedy ones would pervert them into conduits of vanity, power and dominance over others who would use them to better themselves. Like a child with a Zippo, he feared they would harm each other. And if there is a decent moral to divine from the story, it would be this: A stone may be used to build or destroy, but it's not the stone's fault.
We each have to make choices in life and it's those choices that say far more about us than the conditions we're faced with.
So the next time you take your child to the local book burning, stop and ask yourself what it is you're really teaching them.
If there's a concern with something, take a few moments and talk to your children. Explain to them why violence is a negative thing and not to be copied or repeated. As usual, I'm sure the benefits will outweigh the effort.
To quote the Good Witch of the North: "Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?"