Few there are who have yet to hear of the record-breaking literary success scored by the Ove Harry Potter novels of British author J.K. Rowling. In the six years since the Orst of Rowling’s novels was published, some 250 million copies of her books have been sold, with translations now available in 60 different languages. (1) Rowling’s most recent offering, The Order of the Phoenix (2003), was inhaled by the public at the staggering rate of 11 million copies in the Orst three months of its availability. The acceptance of Rowling’s earlier books was hardly less enthusiastic. In the late 90s, the Orst three Potter novels rocketed to the top of the New York Times Bestseller list, where they roosted comfortably for a year, until complaints from other Oction writers convinced the Times to place Rowling’s Potter novels in a separate children’s literature category, thus demoting them to literary irrelevance, or so it was thought.
However, in no way has that dismissal been Onal. In fact, it is far from widely established that the Potter novels are in fact simply children’s literature. J.K. Rowling herself has stated that she never intended the Potter books for youngsters only, but rather that she meant to create something she as an adult reader would enjoy. (2) If recent statistics are any indication, she has succeeded famously in her effort to address the adult mind, for it is now estimated by what are thought to be reliable methods that 43% of her readers are adults. (3) If the 250 million purchased copies of her books are taken to represent 50 million sets of 5 volumes each, that Ogure might be interpreted to translate into the following meaningful fact: approximately 22 million adult readers worldwide have found it worth their time to read the Harry Potter novels of J.K. Rowling.
Although some literary analysts have claimed this is nothing but a dismal statistic attesting to the alleged juvenile and degenerate state of the reading public, there may be a great deal more to the matter than meets the eye. In fact, as this paper will demonstrate, the Potter novels of J.K. Rowling may be seen to be chock full of characters and situations dramatizing a range of issues and concepts that are very adult because they are of central relevance to the ongoing debate between Humanity and the type of spirituality under which it will consent to evolve. SpeciOcally, it will be shown that the Potter novels contain evident and obvious elements which refer to what might be called an emerging New Age Spirituality, the subject of considerable controversy in the world religious community, and the nature of which will now be deOned.
New Age Spirituality Defined: Historical Roots and Key Beliefs
About the fact that some kind of non-orthodox spirituality has emerged in the bulk of the developed world there is little argument, though the exact nature of such an occurrence might be disputed. That such a movement was afoot became evident in America (and to a lesser extent in Europe) during the late 1960s (4) or mid 1970s, (5) theorists largely agree, and when it did so it sprang forth from and embraced a rather rich array of pre-existing conceptual in_uences.
A general understanding of this panoply of in_uences was voiced by the American scholar of religious studies, Robert Ellwood, who recognized what he referred to as the New Age, a movement which he characterized as “...a contemporary manifestation of a western alternative spirituality tradition going back at least to the Graeco-Roman world.” This current, Ellwood said, “..._ows like an underground river through the Christian centuries, breaking into high visibility in the Renaissance occultism of the...Rosicrucian Enlightenment, eighteenth century Freemasonry, and nineteenth-century Spiritualism and Theosophy.” (6) As is clear, Ellwood agrees that there is something which might be called New Age Spirituality, and he maintains that its core elements cleave very closely to the classical mystery tradition of the western world.
Ellwood’s emphasis upon what might also be called the western esoteric tradition was echoed by American scholar of contemporary religion, Gordon Melton, who identiOed the primary impetus for the New Age movement as that which issued from the Theosophical Society established by H.P. Blavatsky, (7) widely known for its articulation of an occult doctrine linked to Hermeticism and its relatives. The same was also found in regard to the New Age movement by European scholar Wouter Hanegraaf, who concluded that what he calls New Age religion can legitimately be seen as a revival of the western esoteric tradition, (8) which Antoine Faivre, his continental colleague, deOnes as inclusive of the following speciOc streams, (9) arranged alphabetically.
Faivre’s DeOnition of the Western Esoteric Tradition
Arthurian and Grail Legendry
Hermetic Emblematic Art
Kabbalah, both Jewish and Christian Neoplatonism
Neo-Pythagorean Numerology and Arithmology Paracelcism
Consequently, these streams might be viewed as the main tributaries _owing into the cumulative river of the alternative spirituality of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Though Faivre’s is an impressive list, even this does not exhaust the full compliment of philosophies and literatures found to have in_uenced the spirituality of the New Age movement, for as Melton Orst and Hanegraaf later have pointed out, New Thought (10) also Ogured signiOcantly in the forces which shaped the New Age Movement. (11)
Thus, to the list above should be added New Thought and its various historical roots, which by some estimates most immediately appear in European Mesmerism and New England Transcendentalism, (12) and then reach all the way back to various forms of Sanatana Dharma, or the Hindu philosophy of India. Indeed, considerable in_uence from the ideas of Hinduism have been identiOed in the New Age movement by Melton’s associates Miem and Lewis. (13)
Both east and west thus amply represented in New Age Spirituality, this brings the grand total, including the intermediate Ogures and movements which bridged between New England Transcendentalism and New Thought, to the following alphabetically arranged list.
Complete List of Sources Contributing to the Nature of New Age Spirituality (14)
Arthurian and Grail Legendry
Davis, Andrew Jackson
Eastern Religious Traditions
Hermetic Emblematic Art
Kabbalah, both Jewish and Christian Neoplatonism
Neo-Pythagorean Numerology and Arithmology New England Transcendentalism (Emerson, etc.)
Unity School of Christianity
It would appear that key beliefs have been extracted or inherited from any and all of the above by what might be called New Age Spirituality, an attempt to comprehensively inventory which Oeld has been made for perhaps the Orst time by scholar of religious studies Wouter Hanegraaf (New Age Religion and Western Culture, SUNY, 1998). Though Hanegraaf could not be accused of harboring any genuine respect for his subject, nor could the Oeld itself be held to any standard of homogeneity as beliefs do vary from sector to sector of the movement, certain essential features of the movement can be recognized all the same.
Thus, using the contents of Hanegraaf’s study as a reasonably fair sampling of New Age spirituality, it might be said that the New Age spiritual paradigm is built around several key beliefs. Prime among these might be the Hermetic dictum, “as above, so below,” with this aphorism to be interpreted in two senses.
The Orst sense in which this phrase may be typical of the New Age belief system is an embrace of the Hermetic Law of Correspondences, in which each thing in the created universe is linked to other things by like qualities or characteristics. This is the basis of astrological reasoning and the related discipline of alchemy, and is likewise an element found in the works of 19th century Spiritualists Emmanuel Swedenborg and Andrew Jackson Davis (names largely unknown to today’s New Age seekers, however).
The second sense in which the formula, “as above, so below” might be applicable to the beliefs of the New Age milieu is in the notion that mind (representing the above) is the creative cause of matter (representing the below), such that as the mind thinks, so becomes the manifested reality of the thinker, be that thinker God or Man. Surely this is the point of view of New Thought, which has ever placed the emphasis upon the creative power of mind and belief.
Another key New Age belief which can be extracted from Hanegraaf’s presentation concerns the critical theological issue of evil. According to Hanegraaf, a main swath of New Age groups and individuals has settled on the position that evil as a principle or power has no authentic existence, being nothing more than a limited manifestation caused by imperfect human perception. Certainly this rejection of evil as a principle within manifest existence is typical of New Thought (one of the identiOed in_uences upon the nature of New Age spirituality), for as J. Stillson Judah pointed out in his early critique of the metaphysical movements in America, disbelief in the existence of any actual evil is a position which has always distinguished the metaphysical groups (including New Thought) from orthodox religion. (15)
However, one of the pivotal in_uences in the New Age movement diverges signiOcantly from this viewpoint. This pivotal in_uence is that of Alice A. Bailey, whom Melton identiOes as the “most important source” of the whole New Age concept. (16) In Bailey’s writings, evil is treated as a deOnite existing factor, being embodied in what Bailey calls the Dark Lodge, which manifestation of evil she claimed to have been the actual driving force behind the Axis Powers during World War II. A further deOnite reference to the existence of evil can be found in the prayer for which Bailey is famous, the Great Invocation, which includes in its fourth verse the line “...may it [the Plan of Love and Light] seal the door where evil dwells.”
The position of the Bailey writings on the existence of evil is of relevance to the main topic of this paper, and so for this reason has been brought out in detail in this otherwise general overview of New Age Spirituality.
Though there are other notions, such as an emphasis upon healing modalities and upon channeling, which Hanegraaf catalogues in regard to the nature of New Age religion (as he calls it), these three main positions are sufOcient orientations. Again, they are: concern with 1) the doctrine of correspondences, a key factor in Hermetic Philosophy, 2) the power of mind or belief, and 3) the denial of the existence of evil, except in the case of the Alice Bailey writings. With these three positions in mind, let us now pass to an examination of certain themes to be found in the Potter novels themselves in three main categories – Allusions to the Western Esoteric Tradition, Allusions to the New Thought Tradition, and The Struggle between Good and Evil.
Allusions to the Western Esoteric Tradition
As previously indicated, New Age spirituality can be said to draw heavily for its inspiration upon the western esoteric tradition. The same might perhaps be said of Rowling’s Potter novels, for as shall be suggestively shown, they are Olled with and informed by allusions to speciOc historical personages and components of this same spiritual and literary tradition.
The Orst broad hint that this may be so is furnished by the title of Rowling’s Orst Potter novel. For publication in the U.S., this volume was titled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, but the original title and the one used for publication in England is Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The philosopher’s stone is of course a very real and well known component of the alchemical tradition, being both the tangible and metaphorical prize and product of the philosophic or spiritual quest, credited with the capacity to transform metals of base nature into those precious, and to grant eternal life. Alchemical tradition has it that the Orst such “stone” (actually alchemical silver) was precipitated via alchemical labors by one Nicholas Flamel, (17) a deOnite historical personage known to have been a self-proclaimed alchemist who lived from 1330 – 1417 C.E. (18)
Flamel himself forms a crucial element in the plot line of Rowling’s Orst Potter novel, which is centrally concerned with ensuring the safety of the stone this alchemist is said to have created so long ago. A particularly dramatic turning point in the story showcases this fact. At one point, the three young protagonists manage to discover what the mystery and controversy gripping their world are all about. They piece together several clues and realize that all the adults and power Ogures in their world are locked in an intense effort to prevent the philosopher’s stone from falling into the hands of unscrupulous forces. In that process, they read from an old tome which tells them the following (quoted from the American edition):
“The ancient study of alchemy is concerned with making the Sorcerer’s Stone, a legendary substance with astonishing powers. The stone will transform any metal into pure gold. It also produces the Elixir of Life, which will make the drinker immortal.
There have been many reports of the Sorcerer’s Stone over the centuries, but the only Stone currently in existence belongs to Mr. Nicolas Flamel, the noted alchemist...who celebrated his six hundred and sixty-Ofth birthday last year....” (19)
This passage is plainly and overtly a direct restatement of alchemical legend, despite the fact that the word choice in the American version ever so slightly clouds the issue. Even so, it is plain that this passage alludes to the traditional philosopher’s stone. Further, it accurately pegs the known birth date of Nicholas Flamel. Here’s why. Stone was Orst published in 1997. Subtract from 1997 the age of Flamel (665 years) claimed by Rowling’s passage, and the result is 1332, just two years after Flamel’s recorded birth year. Figure that Rowling wrote the passage in 1996, and then that the prior year to which she refers is 1995. Subtract 665 from that Ogure (1995), and the result is precisely 1330, the exact year of Flamel’s birth. It is not likely that all this is mere coincidence simply re_ecting the fortuitous convergence of artistic fancy and recorded fact.
Harry Potter himself may in fact be an only faintly disguised alchemist in training, for the situation is set up by Rowling in such a manner as to evoke the proper imagery for such a statement. Rowling casts Potter as a key player in the imaginary game of Quidditch, played in the air by two opposing teams mounted on _ying broomsticks. Potter plays the all important role of Seeker, whose task it is to nimbly catch a small _ying and winged golden orb in the midst of a mad melee somewhat resembling a multiple cross between soccer, hockey, baseball, tennis, and lacrosse. The front cover of the Orst volume depicts Potter in just this role, seconds before catching the winged golden orb, as he _ies on his broomstick through and underneath an arch bearing the words “Sorcerer’s Stone” (i.e., philosopher’s stone). The imagery thus suggests that Harry is a seeker after the prized “golden” philosopher’s stone – in other words, an alchemist himself. In this he partakes of the best of alchemical traditions, which according to specialists in this Oeld, included induction into an elite group called the Order of the Golden Stone. (20)
As is becoming clear, little imagination is required to gather that in all probability, Rowling is well-versed in matters considered arcane and obscure by the mass reading public, hardly a great surprise since she studied Classics at Exeter.
However, knowledge of the alchemical tradition is only one such area in which Rowling might be said to demonstrate depth knowledge. Yet another facet of the Potter novels engages what is perhaps an even more enthralling theme. This one concerns a matter over which much controversy rages, for it challenges assumptions treasured in the mainstream of literary scholarship.
This theme in fact appears right away in Rowling’s Orst novel. There the reader is introduced to Hogwarts, the intriguing magical boarding school Harry and his friends attend. The school’s homely name is mirrored by the decorative statuary on the entry gate, the two pedestals of which support winged stone boars. The hog and boar imagery is further reinforced by the name of a nearby tourist village in which the Hogwarts students recreate. It’s called Hogsmeade, and one of the establishments visited there by the Hogwarts students is a beloved gathering spot and watering hole called The Hog’s Head Tavern.
As it turns out, all this reference to boars and hogs is hardly superOcial stage setting, for the sign of the boar or hog plays an important role in English heraldic symbolism – and in the literary controversy referred to above. SpeciOcally, the boar Ogures prominently in the coat of arms belonging to a good English family by the last name of Bacon, (21) into which family was adopted, according to a certain body of scholars, the illegitimate Orst son of the so-called Virgin Queen, Queen Elizabeth I of England. This illegitimate son was none other, they say, than he who would ultimately become Sir Francis Bacon, and he who wrote under the pseudonyms of William Shaxper or Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser, Sir Philip Sydney, Immerito and others, thus sparking the English Renaissance, and he who was not only the actual motive force behind the Invisible College of Rosicrucians, issuer of the mysterious Fama and Confessio of the early 1600s, but also the key formulator of the Masonic mysteries. (22)
At this juncture, it might be well to point out that the legitimacy of the claims made for Francis Bacon is less important in this context than the question as to whether J.K. Rowling knows about the literature covering this topic, which might for convenience be referred to as the Baconian Tradition. . Since at least the 1880s, the “Baconian” point of view has been advanced by various individuals and groups. (23) It is currently represented by a number of writers and organizations, prominent amongst them the 20th century British historian Alfred Dodd, his compatriot and 20th – 21st century esotericist, Peter Dawkins, the Francis Bacon Research Trust of England (which now maintains a web site dedicated to this theme), 20th century American savant Manly Palmer Hall, and the Francis Bacon Research Library of the U.S.
The Baconian Tradition maintains that Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626 CE) was inspired by contact with the then extant western esoteric tradition during his youthful travels upon the European continent, so much so that he resolved to become a force for the evolution of consciousness in “the whole wide world.” This, the Baconians hold, he contrived to accomplish through massive literary output under the cover of pseudonyms, anonymity necessitated by his ambiguous lineal status in the politically perilous and theologically torturous years of Elizabethan England. Yet, they say, Bacon left behind ample hints as to his real identity in a plethora of cryptographic emblems incorporating boar imagery, which were used as frontispieces for the many literary works they attribute to him. Indeed, even a brief study of these historic emblems reveals a plain representation of the boar, a convincing continuity of artistic device, and many other broad pictographic hints suggesting that there is more to the matter of authorship than meets the untrained eye.
Enter here the question of Francis Bacon’s patrimony. According to Alfred Dodd and others, Francis Bacon’s biological father was one Robert Dudley, Elizabethan era stud from a faction of the Tudor line, (24) to which line Queen Elizabeth I herself belonged. Now this name Dudley is encountered early in Rowling’s Orst novel, for there the reader is introduced to Harry Potter’s rather repulsive cousin, a condescending, dimwitted, and painfully overweight fellow named Dudley, who at one point in the story is endowed by magical means with a veritable pig’s tail, just to underscore his sorry habits.
Although this pure slapstick episode in the book is cause for some very real if muf_ed laughter, and even a measure of vindication as the spoiled antagonist gets his due, there may well be a more serious level at which Rowling is communicating. In all this it is to be found that Harry Potter is related to a “pig” (read hog or boar) whose name is Dudley. A boar named Dudley? Right enough, Cousin Dudley in the Potter novel is a real boor as well as an outright bore, but here the operative word is BOAR. The inescapable conclusion is that Rowling has portrayed Harry Potter as related to a pig/hog/boar, which is to say via heraldic symbolism, the Bacon family. Furthermore, just as Sir Francis was an “unwanted and unwelcome” child, Potter is as well, for the death of his biological parents has forced him into the wardship of piggy Dudley’s parents, who take every opportunity to inform Harry of their bottomless animosity toward him.
Thus, Harry Potter is an unwanted child related to a pig (or boar) and to someone whose name is Dudley. In other words, it might be said that Harry Potter is a reconOgured version of Francis Bacon, unwanted child of Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley, made by adoption to join the family of the Boar, i.e., that of the Bacons. To make short of the matter, it could be said that both Francis and Harry are related to boars and Dudleys. Can this be mere coincidence? Or might Rowling be in process of making a statement in some way related to that attributed to Francis Bacon?
An answer to that question might be had by examining the central objective attributed to Bacon’s effort by the Baconian tradition. Bacon is said to have planned and embarked upon a universal improvement of human life through the betterment of laws, language, and education called the “Rosicrucian Instauration.” A key part of this effort is alleged to have been the enrichment of the Elizabethan era English language with words based on Latin roots. British historian Alfred Dodd demonstrates that Bacon was sorely distressed by the primitive state of the then English language, which was in disarray both in terms of vocabulary and grammar. According to Dodd, Bacon quite literally gave Britain its speech, (25) literally fashioning words and grammatical rules.
This together with Bacon’s reputed literary output Onds an interesting parallel in Rowling’s own use of Latin words and phrases for magical incantations in the Potter novels, and in her real life emphasis upon literacy in personal appearances and interviews. The agendas match up remarkably: just as Bacon is said to have invented words from Latin, so does Rowling in the Potter books, and just as Bacon is said to have devoted himself to creating a literate public, so Rowling has emerged as an advocate of reading and literacy in general. To coin a phrase, as Bacon, so Rowling?
Whatever the answer to that might be, it seems altogether thinkable that Rowling is well aware of the Baconian Tradition and the various issues with which it is concerned. One such is Freemasonry, already identiOed as a component of the western esoteric tradition and possibly as part of the Baconian heritage as well.
Interestingly, Masonic touches are also to be found in Rowling’s Potter novels. For example, the ofOce of the Hogwarts headmaster sits atop a distinctive spiral staircase. The spiral staircase is, of course, a well-known Masonic symbol, appearing widely on Masonic tracing boards and used to symbolize the upwards spiritual path in the Second Degree of the Blue Lodge, or Fellow Craft degree.
The Hogwarts headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, may himself be a further allusion to Masonic imagery. His name is a near homonym for Double D’Or, or double gold (d’or being the French for “of gold”). “Double Gold” might be a reference to the Masonic double headed gold eagle, the symbol for the 33rd degree within the Masonic order. The highest level to be attained in the Scottish Rite assembly, this degree is in fact an honorary degree conferred in recognition of particular Masonic qualiOcations, after the Mason has earned the prior 32 degrees in the usual manner. Thus, if Dumbledore is indeed a Double D’Or, he is a decorated Mason privy too all the secrets and rituals of the Masonic tradition. This status is suggested as well by the fact that the name Dumbledore is also related to an old English word – dumble-bee, meaning bumble-bee. (26) Now this etymological (and entomological) relationship might seem as nothing, were it not for the fact that in Masonic symbolism, the bee-hive Ogures prominently, probably an emblem for the lodge itself. Thus, if Dumbledore is a Dumble-bee of gold (d’or again), he is a “golden bee,” or a distinguished and high-ranking member of a Masonic lodge.
Yet another Masonic theme appears in the Orst Potter novel in the form of a gigantic chess board upon which Harry and his two fellow protagonists must play a deadly game of chess with huge animated and antagonistic Kings, Queens, Knights, Pawns, and so on. Of course, the chess board is constituted of alternating black and white squares, which is precisely the type of _ooring to be found around the central altar of Masonic ritual chambers.
Any discussion of allusions to the western esoteric tradition in the Potter books would be incomplete without mention of another famous name that appears in only a very slightly veiled form in the third volume, The Prisoner of Azkaban. As is the pattern with all the Potter books, this one opens as another school year begins at Hogwarts. The Hogwarts students are issued reading lists for their year of studies ahead. On the third year student’s list appears the title Unfogging the Future, a Octional work on the predictive arts, attributed to one Cassandra Vablatsky. (27) It is hard to miss the screaming similarity of this imaginary author’s last name to the real last name of H.P. Blavatsky, late 19th century author of the in_uential and groundbreaking Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine, the founder of the Theosophical Society, and the individual to the works and followers of whom Gordon Melton attributes the single greatest impact upon the formation of the New Age movement. In sum then, it can be said that selected elements of the western esoteric tradition appear to have been incorporated in the world of Harry Potter, for Rowling’s work contains deOnite allusions to Alchemy, probable references to the Baconian tradition with its close and possibly even causal link to both Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry, and all but outright mention of Blavatskian Theosophy. This being so, it is clear that at least some of the in_uences which have shaped New Age spirituality are also represented in the Harry Potter novels of J.K. Rowling. It can therefore be legitimately surmised that the notions and concepts to be found in these spiritual traditions may well have played some role in the shaping of the issues dramatized in the Potter novels. Certainly and at least, they play some role in the thinking of J.K. Rowling, who can therefore be considered to have been in_uenced by elements of the western esoteric tradition.
Allusions to the Principles of New Thought
The magical world of Harry Potter and Hogwarts is a charmed one indeed, in which one need only tell a postal owl the desired mailing destination and the matter is fait accompli. Mind and matter merge and meld all over the place to the rage and exasperation of fundamentalist critics, whose stiff paradigms crafted alternately of cardboard and concrete are deeply threatened by this _uid Potterian world of exciting and sometimes even dangerous metaphysical possibilities. Rarely a page goes by that does not suggest a closely knit relationship between mind state and the nature of experience. A particularly dramatic example of this notion stands out from the many that might be mentioned. It concerns a key educational episode in the third volume, The Prisoner of Azkaban. In this installment of Harry’s story, he and the other students must learn literally to control their thoughts while uttering magical formulas, lest an unwanted manifestation appear.
The lesson begins with managing what is called a boggart, a malicious but insubstantial spirit which is a bogey man by anyone’s deOnition. The boggart can manifest in any form, depending upon the nature of the greatest fears or negative memories lurking in the back of the student’s mind. The students must learn to dispel the boggart by refusing to become entranced with its fearsome appearance. Instead the students must, while looking directly at the boggart, summon the presence of mind to utter the countercurse, “Riddikulus,” thus robbing the boggart of its power and reducing it to a silly heap of inanimate detritus. In other words, they must learn to pronounce undesired and negative images completely and totally ridiculous, absurd, useless, and irrelevant, and thereby “rid” themselves of the pernicious in_uence. The correlation with the twin practices of afOrmations and denials in the various New Thought movements is obvious, for in both instances the power of mind is exercised via appropriately worded statements to render fear-Olled images powerless. Once the boggart has been mastered, the Hogwarts students (that’s us, folks) must learn to manifest a “patronus,” a great protective spirit unique to each student. The phrase which will cause the manifestation of this powerful protector is “Expecto Patronum,” a variation on a Latin sentence which means, “I await a guardian,” (28) but which looks a great deal to Anglophiles like it ought to mean “Expect your Father,” as in God the Father, and is even reminiscent of the popular New Age aphorism, “Expect a miracle.” But here’s how it works at Hogwarts. If the student’s mind wavers, goes blank, or veers off into anxieties and fears, the use of the patronus spell will invite a boggart to take over and manifest instead, frightening the student out of his or her wits. To avoid this extremely untoward circumstance, the student must Ormly Ox his or her mind on the intended manifestation – the protective patronus – and hold Ormly to the absolute expectation or trust that the patronus will in fact appear.
The similarity between this and the visualization and goal setting techniques of New thought traditions such as Unity, Science of Mind, and others is great, for in all are taught the necessity to stay focused on the desired result. Of course, the use of afOrmations and visualization is considerably less dramatic in the instance of New Thought practice, which is generally carried out in a relaxed and meditative context, but the principles are the same. As for the Hogwarts students, it would appear that in the experience with the boggart and the patronus, they have learned (and demonstrated for the reading audience) that thoughts and words literally create the conditions which they meet, a central contention of the New Thought movement and its offshoots, and hence of New Age spirituality.
Further, word as creative agency plays an ever present role in the Potter books. Hogwarts students spend untold hours learning the proper use of magical phrases designed to accomplish any number of important tasks. The reader encounters “Riddikulus,” which not only takes the wind out of the boggart’s sails, but also reduces anyone within earshot to hilarity (always a good antidote for depressive thoughts); “Impedimenta,” which stops whosoever or whatsoever addressed; “Obliviate,” which induces forgetfulness; “Expelliarmus,” which disarms an opponent by causing his or her magical wand to be involuntarily expelled from the owner’s grasp; “PetriOcus Totalus,” which renders the target completely stiff and immobile; and “Deletrius,” which makes objects disappear; and these examples are just to mention a few. When mastered, these phrases empower the student but to speak, and the thing is done.
Here indeed is a fanciful, souped-up version of afOrmation theory, which posits that the nature of mental self talk and outward speech eventually generates like results. The only difference between the theory of New Thought afOrmations and the use of spells in Potter’s wizarding world is the amount of time elapsed before the results take hold. New Thought recognizes that at least a little time may be needed before the tangible effect appears, whereas in the magical world created by Rowling, the tangible effect is immediate. Otherwise, the idea is the same. It is probably safe to say that readers of any persuasion would be hard pressed to miss the implied relationship between word and effect so engagingly portrayed in the Potter novels. In other words, they’re on the receiving end of a message very much like that Orst formulated by late 19th century American New Thought leader Warren Felt Evans, recognized by some as the Orst to neatly condense the overarching beliefs of the New Thought philosophy into succinctly worded statements, the prototypes of today’s New Thought and New Age afOrmations. (29)
As mentioned earlier, a disbelief in the existence of anything which could truly be considered evil has been said to characterize both the New Age movement (30) and its New Thought ancestors. (31) However, this particular ontological position is not necessarily embraced by all factions of New Age spirituality. In particular, a recognition that various types of evil exist is in fact to be found in the works of 20th century writer and Theosophist Alice Bailey.
Evil certainly makes a dramatic appearance in the Potter novels, the overall plot line of which concerns a furious struggle between what are obviously the forces of good and evil. Thus, it might be thought by some that the point of view adopted by the Potter novels diverges signiOcantly from New Age spirituality. However, this is not necessarily the case, for there exist deOnite correlations between the type of evil dramatized in the Potter series and that recognized in the works of Alice Bailey.
That an evil presence lurks behind the scenes becomes very evident early on in the Potter novels. There, in the Orst few episodes of the Orst volume, the reader learns that Harry Potter’s young parents have been assassinated by a cold-blooded wizard named Voldemort. Voldemort’s presence persists throughout all Ove of the presently published novels, fomenting fear amongst the entire wizarding community because of his legendary reign of terror, which came to a screeching and unexpected halt when he was unable to snuff the life out of the infant Harry Potter. Drastically and mysteriously weakened by his failure, Voldemort persisted only as a vaporous and malicious entity, sucking vitality from others, in the pursuit of his consuming passion – the avoidance of his own death. Further, Voldemort threatens to return to power and ruin the reasonably happy life enjoyed by the entire international wizarding community since his partial demise. All live in abject fear that Voldemort’s reign of torture and summary execution may return as the order of the day. As is evident, Voldemort is portrayed as evil incarnate. He has no regard for anyone save himself, delights in in_icting physical and psychological pain, and refuses to trustingly remand himself to the keeping of the Deity in the arms of a natural death. Voldemort’s twisted psyche represents complete alienation – disregard for human life, lack of fellow feeling, and an apparent disbelief in the higher life of the spirit after death, else he would not be so keen to persist in the same bodily sheath.
Ranged against the empty-hearted Voldemort and his hair-raising comrades are the endearing and charmingly wacky folk of the wizarding community. These include Harry Potter, his friends and supporters, and of course the excellent Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts. Dumbledore stands for all that is magical goodness – whimsy, playfulness, fun, adventure, and a genuinely respectful tolerance for the quirks and oddities of others.
That Dumbledore has also taken some kind of courageous stand against the dark and evil forces threatening the wizarding community is made clear in the early pages of Stone. There the reader discovers that the Hogwarts headmaster qualiOed himself for eminence in the wizarding world by overpowering a “dark lord” named Grindelwald in the year 1945. (32) The year 1945 just happens to Ogure prominently in the works of Alice Bailey. It was in that year, Bailey claimed, that were turned back evil forces then attempting to seize control of our planet. (33) The defeat having been decisive enough to allow for the continued forward evolution of Humanity, it was re_ected in outer manifestation as the formal and Onal collapse of the Axis Powers (that is, Germany, Italy, and Japan). These, according to Bailey, had been the fronts for and puppets of what she termed the “Dark Lodge,” whose interest pure and simple was the enslavement of the human spirit. (34) Opposed to this and to everything for which the Dark Lodge stood then and still stands now, according to Bailey, are the Masters of the Planetary Hierarchy, a body of largely unseen but powerful enlightened beings who have been present on our planet since prehistoric times, and who work assiduously for the true spiritual liberation of our entire planetary life. (35) According to Bailey, “The main task of the spiritual Hierarchy has ever been to stand between the Forces of Evil and humanity, to bring imperfection into the light so that evil can ‘Ond no place’ for action, and to keep the door open into the spiritual realm.” (36) The work of this group is said by Bailey to have been originally inspired from “The Blue Lodge” on the star Sirius. (37) The parallels between the struggles in Rowling and Bailey are remarkable. In Rowling it is Voldemort, the dark lord (who actually leaves a “dark mark” on his slaves) and his company who represent evil; Dumbledore the Mason and his associates who represent the good. In Bailey it is the Dark Lodge which threatens; Hierarchy, said to be patterned on a Masonic Lodge on the star Sirius, which embodies truth and right.
Note that Dumbledore as a leading Ogure of the free wizarding world fought and overcame a wizard with a German name (Grindelwald) in 1945. In other words, he vanquished an evil German in 1945, which in the “real world” is the year World War II formally came to a complete end. Of course, 1944 is the precise year in which Nazi Germany fell to the Allies, but the task was not complete until 1945 when defeat came to Japan, the last of the surviving Axis Powers. So it could be said that 1945 was the year in which the battle against planetary evil was decisively and Onally won.
The link with the year 1945 would seem to identify Dumbledore with both the Allies and Bailey’s Planetary Hierarchy. On top of this, Dumbledore suffers no fear of death, as does the evil and ruthless Voldemort. Says Dumbledore in the Orst volume, “To the well organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” (38) This attitude, quite in contrast to Voldemort’s desperate attempt to avoid the shedding of the physical form, is right in line with one of the objects of the Planetary Hierarchy, according to Bailey. She has indicated that one of the chief objectives of this enlightened body is to teach Humanity about the immortal soul so that it may be relieved of and no more controlled by its fear of death. (39) Dumbledore is “already there.”
Thus, in Dumbledore are to be found at least two themes directly connected with Bailey concepts – freedom from fear of death, and the defeat of evil in 1945. The year 1945 was also singled out by Bailey for yet other closely related reasons. It was in that year, Bailey claimed, that the Age of Aquarius actually began (40) and in that same year that the leader of the Hierarchy, whom she calls The Christ, embraced what she called his new world task in response to the Aquarian impulse, taking his momentous decision to return to outward manifestation. (41) This was also the year in which the Great Invocation was given in its present form, (42) and the year in which was established the United Nations, a project Bailey claimed to have been instigated by the Planetary Hierarchy. (43) All that makes the year 1945 of signal importance in the Bailey tradition. Odd, is it not, that Rowling should seize upon that very year as a decisive turning point in the struggle against evil in the Potterian world? Or, is it perhaps meaningful? Or then again, downright telling? After all, Alice A. Bailey was born a British citizen – in England’s Manchester, no less, the very town out which would one day depart a train carrying one J.K. Rowling as she sped toward the moment, destined to occur while she sat waiting for the train to be repaired, that would bring the original inspiration for the entire Potter series. (44) A remarkable overlap of interests and even of details seems to be at work here. If Rowling is not aware of the Bailey writings, then it must be a case of unconscious telepathic inspiration, so close are the resemblances.
As we have seen, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels allude to important issues that can only be truly appreciated by the adult mind, for Rowling’s plots and characters not only resurrect the western esoteric tradition and demonstrate the metaphysical notion that belief and thought condition experience, but also bring forcefully to mind the nature of a struggle some see waged in our world. These are great spiritual issues, certain parts of which are shunted aside by orthodox religion, but all parts of which are embraced by various aspects of New Age spirituality. Heretofore, these have been alternative points of view and ideas, but with the dissemination of these concepts to nearly 22 million adult readers, that status is in process of changing. As the popularity of the Potter books continues and spreads, the reading populace will have an opportunity to try what are really ideas from New Age spirituality on for size. In so doing, they’ll be in effect sampling the western esoteric tradition, the essentials of New Thought, and even a little Alice A. Bailey. In the intriguing fantasy world that Rowling invents, this is a nearly painless endeavor.
1 These statistics were announced on November 17, 2003, by J.K. Rowling’s agent, Christopher Little, and were reported by Reuters New Service, story I.D. # 3834075.
2 Quoted on the Yahoo Harry Potter for Grown-ups web site and in Marc Shapiro, J.K. Rowling: the Wizard Behind Harry Potter, p. 84.
3 The Washington Post, September 23, 2003.
4 J. Gordon Melton, “New Thought in the New Age,” p. 16 in Perspectives on the New Age, James R. Lewis and J. Gordon Melton, eds.
5 Wouter J. Hanegraaf, New Age Religion and Western Culture, p. 12.
6 Robert Ellwood, “How New is the New Age?” in Lewis and Melton, eds., Perspectives on the New Age, p. 59.
7 J. Gordon Melton, “Introduction,” p. xi, in Lewis and Melton, eds., Perspectives on the New Age; Wouter J. Hanegraaf, New Age Religion and Western Culture, p. 400.
8 Wouter J. Hanegraaf, New Age Religion and Western Culture, p. 400.
9 Antoine Faivre, Access to Western Esotericism, pp. 52 – 70.
10 New Thought is a metaphysical movement which began in America during the late 1800s and includes Christian Science, Science of Mind, Divine Science, Religious Science, and Unity.
11 J. Gordon Melton, “Introduction,” p. xi, in Perspectives on the New Age.
12 J. Stillson Judah, The History and Philosophy of the Metaphysical Movements in America; Charles S. Braden, Spirits in Rebellion.
13 Andrea Grace Diem and James R. Lewis, “Imagining India: The In_uence of Hinduism on the New Age Movement,” in Perspectives on the New Age, Lewis and Melton, eds., pp. 48 – 49.
14 Compiled from the following: Robert Ellwood, “How New is the New Age?” in Perspectives on the New Age, Lewis and Melton, eds.; J. Stillson Judah, The History and Philosophy of the Metaphysical Movements in America; J. Gordon Melton, Encyclopedia Handbook of Cults in America, p. 108; Antoine Faivre, Access to Western Esotericism, pp. 52 ff; Wouter J. Hanegraaf, New Age Religion and Western Culture, pp. 388 – 396.
15 J. Stillson Judah, The History and Philosophy of the Metaphysical Movements in America, pp. 14, 44, 179. The same has been said of the 19th century Spiritualist movement, which has been identiOed as a contributor to New Age spirituality. For this, see Robert Ellwood, “How New is the New Age?” in Perspectives on the New Age, Lewis and Melton, eds., pp. 66 – 67.
16 J. Gordon Melton, “Introduction,” p. xi in Perspectives on the New Age, Lewis and Melton, eds.
17 Paul Bembridge, p. 242, in The Rosicrucian Enlightenment Revisited, ed. Ralph White.
18 Antoine Faivre, Access to Western Esotericism, p. 55.
19 J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, p. 220.
20 Ralph White, “Introduction,” in The Rosicrucian Enlightenment Revisited, p. xiii, Ralph White, ed.
21 Peter Dawkins, Arcadia, p. 182.
22 See particularly Peter Dawkins, Arcadia, and Alfred Dodd, Francis Bacon’s Personal Life Story.
23 Mention of this controversy is to be found in correspondence to H.P. Blavatsky dated 1883 in H.P. Blavatsky Collected Works, ed. De Zirkoff, v. IV, p. 602. Evidence for an even earlier appearance may exist.
24 Peter Dawkins, Arcadia, p. 272.
25 Alfred Dodd, Francis Bacon’s Personal Life Story, p. 136.
26 David Colbert, The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter, p. 56.
27 J.K. Rowling, The Prisoner of Azkaban, p. 53.
28 David Colbert, The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter, p. 111.
29 Wouter Hanegraaf, New Age Religion and Western Culture, p. 488.
30 Wouter J. Hanegraaf, New Age Religion and Western Culture, p. 276 ff.
31 J. Stillson Judah, The History and Philosophy of the Metaphysical Movements in America, pp.14, 44, 179.
32 J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, pp. 102 – 103.
33 Alice A. Bailey, The Externalization of the Hierarchy, pp. 491 – 493.
34 Alice A. Bailey, The Externalization of the Hierarchy, p. 425.
35 See Alice A. Bailey, Initiation, Human and Solar passim; A Treatise on White Magic, pp. 377 – 378; A Treatise on Cosmic Fire, pp. 349, 718.
36 Alice A. Bailey, Esoteric Healing, p. 666.
37 Alice A. Bailey, The Rays and the Initiations, pp. 415 – 416, 418. 38 J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, p. 297.
39 Alice A. Bailey, Esoteric Healing, p. 390.
40 The date for the beginning of the Age of Aquarius is indeed a matter of contention and debate amongst astrologers and students of various spiritual traditions. However, there are two statements made in the Bailey writings which suggest that the onset of the Age of Aquarius occurred in the Orst half of the twentieth century. In Problems of Humanity (p. 81), Bailey wrote, “The release of the energy of the atom is deOnitely the inauguration of the New Age.” This might point to the year 1945, in which the Orst detonation of nuclear weapons occurred. In The Reappearance of the Christ (pp. 82 – 83), Bailey identiOed precisely this year in regard to the onset of the Age of Aquarius when she wrote that the New or Aquarian Age had begun in June 1945 with the assumption by what she termed “the Christ” of his “Aquarian role.”
41 Alice A. Bailey, The Reappearance of the Christ, pp. 30, 31, 81.
42 Alice A. Bailey, The Reappearance of the Christ, p. 31; The Rays and the Initiations, p. 95.
43 Alice A. Bailey, The Reappearance of the Christ, p. 93.
44 Quoted in Marc Shapiro, J.K. Rowling: The Wizard Behind Harry Potter, p. 49.
Author’s Notes: Please note that this article was written c2005 and prior to the completion of the seven Harry Potter books.