American Atheist Home

Magazine Home

Print Edition



Web Supplement

On Target!

American Atheists

What's New

Flash Line



[text only]
American Atheist Forum

Harry Potter, Witchcraft and the First Amendment

September 18, 2020

Is it a harmless promotion to encourage youngsters to read? Or does it violate the separation of church and state by stimulating an interest in occult themes and pagan religion?

In Florida, parents have objected to a library program that presented youngsters with certificates for reading the wildly popular Harry Potter series by author J.K. Rowling. A Christian legal interest group, Liberty Counsel, became involved in the controversy and charged that the promotion actually violated the separation of church and state.

Before dismissing such a charge, though, it may be worth mulling a few facts. Increasingly, followers of pagan belief systems have sought various forms of legal protection and recognition. In the summer of 1999,Rep. Bob Barr objected to the presence of an organized circle of witches who happened to be members of the U.S. military at Fort Hood, Texas. New York parents objected last year to school programs that invited a psychic and a ministers of the Sikh religion to classes to conduct yoga sessions. Children were also allegedly required to make sculptures of Aztec and Hindu deities.

How would Atheists react if schools invited fundamentalist preachers into the classroom? Would libraries be violating the separation of church and state if they presented children with recognition certificates for, say, reading the Bible or Koran? Are books with fantastic or occult themes to be considered a form of religious proselytizing?

Who decides?

This American Atheist Magazine poll seeks your input on the Florida case. Are parents simply using this issue as an excuse to censor books they don't like? Or did the library cross the line in what is becoming a more complex area dividing church and state?

This opinion poll is now closed. * GET THE BACKGROUND ON THIS STORY.
* See Sidebar: A Pagan Opinion about Harry Potter

View final results

[back] Back to Magazine Index.

[monthly special]

A Pagan Opinion about Harry Potter

by Lowell McFarland

With the constant efforts of Christians to bring back the Bible, the Ten Commandments, Christian prayer, values, morality, etc., into public schools and libraries, Atheists have a right to wonder if another persistent group, Pagans, are behind elements of the Harry Potter books for purposes of Pagan proselytizing.

As a Celt, nominally Pagan, who has been working in the area of Celtic/Pagan rights for forty years and now publish a worldwide Online Celtic/Pagan news service, I believe that I can offer my opinion as a Pagan.

Author J.K. Rowling is not a Pagan (presumed a Christian), Pagan leaders have made no efforts to promote, distribute, sell, etc., the Harry Potter books and most all Pagans parents love the four Potter books and how it assists their children to read. Pagans don't consider the Harry Potter books any more representative of Paganism than they think Cinderella , Wizard of Oz or Jack and the Beanstalk are Pagan texts or tracts. Additionally, currently, Pagans have an almost virtual prohibition against proselytism, which would preclude the stealth or subliminal use of Witch mentioned bestsellers like the Harry Potter books, the Mysts of Avalon, TV series like Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, Sabrina, etc., to be used to proselytize, even if Pagans had the ability to purposely insert material.

Atheists should thus not be worried about presumed covert Pagan efforts relative to Harry Potter.

As a child, I remember costumed storytellers, and school and library promotions for books, in which I got a handful of happy beans for reading Jack in the Beanstalk, and others got lion masks and Witches hats for reading Wizard of Oz, little crowns or magical wands for reading Tales of King Arthur, etc. To my memory, these were Christian and Jewish teachers, librarians and storytellers, and there was no hint that they, with their reading or "graduation gifts" were promoting Paganism. Similarly, there seems to be no apparent intent to push Paganism by the non-Pagans in the Jacksonville Library even with their use of Harry Potter graduation certificates.

While I believe that the Christian group most vocal about the presumed religious nature of Harry Potter books is also the group pushing for Christian prayers in public schools, many Christians actually have a different and positive view and are actually some of the biggest Harry Potter fans. A Church in England has recently had a special Sunday Harry Potter service where everybody dressed up as Harry Potter characters, Witches, Merlin and all, even the minister was in costume - the Wizard? It had the approval of higher ups.

The movie about Harry Potter will be filmed at the 800 year old, Christian Gloucester Cathedral, whose head is a self described Harry Potter fan. Many Christians have commented on the rigid actions and "outrage" of fundamentalists against any book with any Pagan names, in spite of their usual apparent Christian moral content.

Finally, there is a unique story relative to the real background of Harry Potter.

Pagan King Arthur and the Druid Merlin were real people and lived about 500 AD., in Cornwall, England or Wales. Supposedly, King Arthur had a unique and fair administration and Merlin was believed to be the most outstanding Druid of his day. Other than that, and now and then mentions of Arthur, we know almost nothing about the real Arthur and Merlin. This is probably because of the recorded abject destruction, bowdlerization, censorship, etc., of all recorded information, by the Roman Catholic Church as it attained hegemony and made the church/state pacts to destroy all elements of other religions.

Eventually Roman Catholic writers, the only writers permitted, finally started writing the history of pre-Christian Europe. However, as Catholics under the full official censorship and nihil obstat (nothing offensive to the Church), the bowdlerized versions contained obvious omissions and revisionist histories (nothing lasted about Pagan Solstice celebrations even though there are hundreds of Solstice monuments in Europe, for instance) and only strained glimpses into the real pre-Christian history.

About 1160 AD, the Catholic French writer, Chretian de Troyes, wrote a series of romantic Christian morality plays and grabbed the name of Pagan King Arthur and other 500 AD Pagan characters, put them into medieval clothes and castles and gave them Christian attitudes. This is the first of the modern romantic/Christian Arthurian tales.

Both Arthur and Merlin are Latin versions of their Gaelic names, as expected. Celtic Artous Viros (bear man) or Welsh Arth Gwyr are recorded as the non Latinized name of Arthur, and Latin Merlin is Myrddin in Welsh. Apparently, Christians disliking the literal translation of Myrddin as Latin Merd (dung), changed it to Merlin.

Following the same de Troyes/Christian romance formula, many other Catholic writers wrote romantic tales with Arthurian or Arthurian like elements in titular or background format. The most notable in English is Sir Thomas Mallory's Morte d'Arthur of 1496. Harry Potter is apparently a direct decedent of Mallory's Mort d'Arthur.

Perforce, the Arthurian tales have continuing background Celtic and Pagan elements. The constant white horse is the Celtic horse/Goddess Epona, revered also by Pagan Romans, and used as a modern symbol by many corporations, including Tri-Star Films, and every "good" cowboy. The sword Excaliber, stuck in a boulder, will only be released when the Earth Goddess/Mother gives permission - no solar deity here. Excaliber must be returned to the "lady", and is finally thrown into a lake, was caught by the "Lady of the Lake" and disappeared below. The Holy Grail is assumed to be a christianized Pagan cauldron that originally restores life to any dead Celtic warrior placed in it.

But, all in all, most all Arthurian tales and their progeny, are Christian, rather than Celtic or Pagan modalities.

Again, the Harry Potter books are great and proven devises to encourage all children to read, but contain Christian morality and Pagan names, with very little real Paganism.

Even though Celtic and Pagan beliefs contain much non-rational elements, relative to Atheist thought, Harry Potter is not part of it.

Lowell McFarland is a commercial photographer, living and working in Connecticut. For the last forty years he has been involved in Celtic matters, including being an officer of the Clan MacFarlane Society, Pagan rights, promotion and information, and projects like getting Net Cams into the 5000 year old megaliths at Newgrange, Ireland and Maeshowe, Scotland, to broadcast the Winter Solstice worldwide.

Contact Lowell McFarland.


Previous polls:
Pigskin Piety
Can Religious Freedom Become Religious License?
Battlefield Earth Boycott
Billboards of Hate
FCC Guidelines
Is Christmas A Secular Holiday?
Studying the Bible in Public Schools
Public Funding of Controversial Art Exhibits
Public financing of private schools
Intervention In Kosovo
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence
Public Piety in Sports
The Pope’s Agenda for America
Blasphemy and the law
Church bulletin Discounts
Assisted Suicide
Paranoid Nation?
Boy Scout Discrimination
The Religious Freedom Amendment
The execution of Karla Faye Tucker.

Copyright © 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 by American Atheists.