There’s a moment when you realize how deeply embedded the Harry Potter series lies within your soul. That moment when your words cannot express how much the fictional wizarding world – its characters, settings, moods – means to you. It is a moment of reverence, of joy, of love. It is, no doubt, sacred.
What if we read the books we love as if they were sacred texts?
This is the question Vanessa Zoltan and Casper ter Kuile attempt to answer in their podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. It is a fan-led weekly reading (or, reading into) of J.K. Rowling’s beloved book series, each episode a meditation on a single Harry Potter chapter. The project began with a desire to re-read the books as “instructive and inspirational” texts, like one might do with other sacred tomes: the Bible, the Torah, the Quran. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, Harry Potter and the Sacred Text was born.
Since Harry Potter occupies such an integral part of an entire generation’s childhood, many already consider the series a sacred part of growing up. Vanessa and Casper, however, push the concept of a “sacred text” even further. Each educated in theological studies, their mission is to perform a deep dive into the texts through a series of close readings. Each week, they examine one chapter – in chronological order – through a central theme: commitment, loneliness, fear, generosity, and more. This is done in the hope that we can reach a deeper understanding of the series – to revisit our beloved childhood friends from a new and enlightening perspective. For instance, what happens when we examine the Dursleys’ treatment of Harry through the lens of commitment rather than cruelty? (Difficult, I know.)
In “The Vanishing Glass,” Vanessa and Casper examine the deep-seated loneliness Harry experiences living with the Dursleys. They point out that, up until his trip to the zoo, Harry’s only personal interactions have been with Dudley’s gang (who bully him), Mrs Figg (a cat-loving, cabbage-smelling neighbour), and the spiders in his cupboard. Their revelation that Harry’s talk with the Brazilian boa constrictor is the first time he truly feels a connection with another living being broke my heart. But, more so, it gave me a deeper admiration for Harry’s resilience and strength of character.
There is a wonderfully meditative quality to Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. Vanessa and Casper start off by sharing a personal anecdote that relates to the weekly theme. For loneliness, Vanessa tells a story about feeling so profoundly alone when she was “forgotten” by a friend. For generosity, Casper speaks of his wedding day, a moment when a distant uncle took off his neck tie and fastened it lovingly around his husband’s neck. These are stories to which we all relate. Stories that provide a unique entry point into J.K. Rowling’s revered text.
In perhaps the most wonderful part of the podcast, Vanessa and Casper finish each episode by blessing a character from the chapter – the character they feel most needs it at the time. In “The Keeper of the Keys,” Casper blesses Hagrid for carrying Harry’s squashed birthday cake all the way to the shack in the middle of the sea. Vanessa (bless her) has committed to blessing a female character each week, which is as difficult as it is celebratory. Her blessing of Professor McGonagall in “The Boy Who Lived” brought a tear to my eye, as I came to understand the profound dedication of a bespectacled cat sitting atop a wall.
One of my favourite things about the Harry Potter series is how deeply it deals with the big questions of human experience. Does love really triumph over hate in the end? Is there such thing as a selfless act? Is it ethical to act for the Greater Good? Harry Potter and the Sacred Text explores these questions and helps us re-read our favourite books in a completely new way. And, for that, I give them my blessing.
Listen to Harry Potter and the Sacred Text on their website.