Harry Potter as a Sacred Text

Post Author: Alexandra Van Kuiken


For the past several months, I have gathered every Monday with three other chaplains at a state psychiatric hospital in Trenton, New Jersey, to read Harry Potter as if it is a sacred text. This is precisely the sort of activity I would have rolled my eyes at years ago when the Harry Potter books first came into my awareness. As a homeschooled, Baptist child who thought she knew everything, I was quite certain that Harry Potter with its witchcraft and wizardry was diametrically opposed to the Bible and thus everything sacred. Whether or not it was appropriate to read Harry Potter was a topic of hot debate in my church with the more “liberal” (in the sense of engaging with the world rather than in any political sense) families choosing to read the series and more “conservative” families choosing not to. I was nothing if not conservative, so it wasn’t until my 21st birthday that I first gave the books a try. 

I was studying abroad in Athens, Greece, at the time and found Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone at an English bookstore. I liked that it had a different title than the American version, and I was a Philosophy major, so I snatched it up as a birthday present for myself and began reading. I loved it. I loved the world of witches and wizards, the discovery that Harry makes that he is someone special, and the danger and adventures he faces. 

Reading has always been a special practice for me. It’s a way I escape the world around me and find excitement. I have an active imagination and become very immersed in the stories I read. When I was young, I used to wish that I could walk into a wardrobe and emerge in the world of Leia and Luke Skywalker, or Middle Earth to walk with ents, or Narnia to find that I myself could be a queen. And even though none of these things occurred, I still found myself believing in the impossible, in the magical, in the imaginary. I think the part of myself that falls so easily into story is the same part of myself that has always felt a connection to God. 

And so, at the age of 34, as a chaplain at a state psychiatric hospital, I find myself in a “Harry Potter as a Sacred Text” reading group. I read a chapter a week and meet with Doran, Miriam and Rebekah to recap the chapter, discuss the themes we noticed, and engage in Lectio Divina, Ignatian Imagination, or another sacred reading practice with the pages of a children’s fantasy novel. 

Just this week while reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets we did Lectio Divina and reflected on the word “flowerpot.” Explaining how to travel by Floo powder, Molly Weasley tells Harry to speak clearly while George Weasley takes some Floo powder out of the flowerpot. We reflected on flowerpots as vessels for growth and asked God to help us speak clearly and with conviction, without wavering. We wondered where we have vessels for growth in our own lives and whether we recognize them as such. 

For the past year or so I’ve been repeating to my spiritual director, my online support group, and anyone who will listen that I want to “work on my spirituality.” What I mean by this is I want to engage in meaningful spiritual practices and develop my faith life and relationship with God. This used to seem so clear-cut to me. It used to mean reading the Bible and praying. Now I realize those are not the only ways I can connect to God. And yet I find that if I am not intentional about building these practices into my daily routine, I will let my spiritual life stagnate. 

While speaking to my spiritual director about this goal, I realized that there are a few ways I am already engaging my spirituality. One is my online support group. Another is my weekly reading of Harry Potter as sacred with my fellow chaplains. This practice is a way for me to connect with colleagues as a community of people seeking God together. It involves an hour set aside each week to look at a text’s themes and wonder how those themes connect to my spiritual life and my ministry. It involves a sacred reading practice where I listen for God’s voice, speak my own concerns to God, and ask what I am being called to do in my life as a result. Reading Harry Potter as a sacred text has helped me reconnect to the very concept of what it means to treat anything as sacred. It is as if I have found a side door into my soul, a way to access that part of myself without any guard up or any expectations of how to proceed or what I may find.

Ali Van Kuiken is an Episcopal Priest in the Diocese of New Jersey and a Board Certified Clinical Chaplain. She works at Trenton Psychiatric Hospital in Trenton, New Jersey. Ali loves playing board games, reading and spending time with her husband, daughter and cat.

Image by: HP Sacred Text Reading Group
Used with permission
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