Tag Archives: Harry Potter

The Potter Pilgrimage Comes to an End

Mecca, Varanasi, the Western Wall, Santiago de Compostela, Trafalgar Square.

What do all these places have in common?

All of these locales are holy sites, the divine destination of devoted pilgrims making a journey to a sacred site, a consecrated location here on earth where they might experience the holy, feel the celestial or experience spiritual companionship on an expedition of spiritual significance – a pilgrimage.

While places like Mecca might make sense, what about Trafalgar Square in London ? What might be the spiritual significance of such a place?  This last week Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 premiered n Trafalgar Square and there were throngs of pilgrims from all over the world present to witness the culmination of a 10 year journey through eight Potter films.

As the Daily Star reports, there was a young woman who made the journey from British Columbia, Canada to Trafalgar Square to be present for the final Harry Potter film premier. She was spending her whole life savings to guarantee she would be there to experience the moment that the Harry Potter film era began its end. First in line and waiting for a week before the premier the 22 year old Potter fanatic said “Harry Potter has been the biggest part of my life….This is the last film, so I blew my life savings to be here.” Another fan, Robert Connor, who sports a Hogwarts tattoo added that he “travelled for 13 hours and spent $5,000 to be here but it is worth it.”

Even my wife and I understand their passion. While living in rural South Africa we made a five hour drive to see Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince when it premiered and over the last several years I spent a fair amount of time outside movie theaters and bookstores in the dark of the night to be one of the first to see the newest Potter film or grab the spine of the freshest Harry Potter novel.

There certainly is something magical about Harry Potter, but considering the following vignettes of individual devotion and journey for the sake of Harry Potter premieres, I sense a fair bit of religious devotion as well. While we could debate the religious themes of the series itself, I find it fascinating that so many people, from such varied backgrounds would commit themselves to Potter to the point that their journey would reflect that of a spiritual pilgrimage.

Much like the Hajj or the journey to the Santiago Cathedral, the Harry Potter journey can be considered a pilgrimage in itself. Spanning some 14 years since the first book was released millions of devotees across the world have faithfully read, travelled, watched, waited, hoped and devoted themselves to Harry Potter’s seven-year journey to meet Voldemort in one final battle between good and evil.

Every year millions of religious devotees make their way to shrines and holy sites around the world. Each of these pilgrimages imbibes the individual adherent’s life with spiritual significance and meaning. Colleen Fleming, reflecting on her pilgrimage via the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in the Lutheran magazine of Australia (August 2007), shares that her pilgrimage was “an inspirational journey that culminated in the satisfaction and sheer joy of having reached a goal” that filled her heart with awe and led her to praise with gusto in the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. As Fleming walks away from the pilgrimage experience she feels that she feels fulfilled and noticed that the journey reflects life itself.

Perhaps more than anything else, pilgrimages bind pilgrims together. As Fleming wrote, there was an “easy companionship, a warmth and a sense of shared identity” that accompanied the pilgrims as they shared their spiritual journey together along the Camino de Compostela. Although many pilgrims begin their journey for various individual reasons they all share the same path and along the way grow together as they experience the journey and reach their common destination as one people.

For many, the Potter series has given their lives joy, escapism, meaning, spiritual guidance and a whole new circle of companions in life. Luis Guilherme, a 22-year-old graduate student from Sao Paolo, Brazil who made the journey to Trafalgar spoke to CTV News and shared, “I don’t know how my life would be without it. I would be less imaginative, for sure, and less adventurous. I would never be here in London.” He also spoke of how because of Harry Potter he “made friends” with people throughout the world. Like a spiritual pilgrim Guilherme found much more than entertainment in the Potter films and committed himself to a physical journey as a sign of his inward journey. Along the way he found companions and together with them experienced the highs and lows of the Potter journey and feels better off as a person because of it.

With its gripping story of life and death, courage and hope in the face of evil and the importance of companionship it is no wonder that in a world filled with doubt, uncertainty and conflict that young men and women across the globe find the Harry Potter saga spiritually satisfying. Devoted to Harry Potter books and films, the author J.K. Rowling and the actors who made the characters of the wizarding world come to life these believers will make the journey anywhere to experience the magic and meaning that the Harry Potter story has given them.

And now as the films come to a close the question is what will happen next? For many the on-line world of Pottermore offers some solace and in a way, is a sort of digital pilgrimage all its own. For others a Potter pilgrimage will lead them to Orlando or other locales where they may not perform the Jamarat or recite the Shahada in Mecca, but they will perform expelliarmus charms and quiz one another on lines from the Harry Potter books and movies as they visit Hogwarts, down butter beer and pick out their very own wand in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a new Harry Potter themed park. Certainly, even without the films in theaters there are still shrines for a proper Potter pilgrimage, and I am sure that for years to come people will flock to them as they seek out meaning, companionship and experiential spiritual fulfillment in the story of “the boy who lived.”


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Freedom, Justice and Conflict

It seems that everyone is still talking about Terry Jones, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Islam, Christianity, Q’uran burning, Obama and terrorism.

In the last week I held four separate conversations on the topic and all you have to type on Google is “ima” before “Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf” comes up or just put in “pastor” and they suspect you are looking up Terry Jones from Gainesville.

One of the most significant discussions that I had this last week was with my intelligent wife, Elizabeth.

There are others sharing  how this really is a comment on the media’s desire for grandiose and shocking stories, or it’s actually a happy story where Jews, Christians, Muslims and people of all faiths condemned the actions of Terry Jones and his little band of followers. These are fair reactions, and worth a read at CNN.

Christians like Eugene Cho and Jim Wallis are also chiming in.

These are all fine contributions and worth a read.

What intrigues me are the issues of religious freedom, religious conflict, justice and free speech at stake in this story of pastors, Q’urans, holy sites and imams.

First, religious freedom and free speech.

The U.S. Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

In these 45 words the founders of the United States made it possible for millions of us to share billions of words on trillions of topics. These words allow me and you to do what we are doing right now; engaging in the free exchange of ideas across a netscape based on the principals described within the First Amendment.

These words allow for churches, Islamic centers, synagogues, temples, societies and the like to establish themselves across the landscape of the United States and, permitting they do not bring outright harm to another individual, continue to preach whatever they want to preach and believe whatever they want to believe.

Now, granted, there are some religious and quasi-religious movements that take these rights for granted and engage in unsolicited hate speech and actions against others they deem inferior or unnecessary. There is great precedent for action against such organizations that impinge on the rights of others.

Some would say that Terry Jones and his merry band of Muslim-haters would fit right into that extremist mold and therefore the government is fully justified in stepping in and shutting them down.

Yet, they didn’t. Well, at least, not really.

Robert Gates called, yes. Obama pleaded that the burning not take place, yes. However, the local authorities in Gainesville were tied to a post in terms of taking legal action, spare shutting down a book burning without the proper fire code permits.


Because under the U.S. Constitution we are allowed to burn books we do not like. That does not constitute an impingement of anyone’s rights. Just as the Supreme Court upheld in 1989 that as disagreeable an act as it may be, burning the flag is a symbolic act of free expression and is protected by the First Amendment so too is book burning.

Less than a decade ago a group of Christians in Alamogordo, NM gathered to burn J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” books along with Star Wars DVDs and books. Although they were not permitted to burn the books because it was deemed a fire-hazard by county authorities, they changed tack and went about conducting a book-cutting. Although it enraged a myriad of Potter fans and wannabe Jedis it a) was not against the law of the U.S.A. and b) did not garner such national attention as Terry Jones’ publicity stunt.


Religious freedom.

When one freedom comes into conflict with another freedom, we get fireworks. Fourth-of-July-like fireworks.

While some in New Zealand may consider being a Jedi an official religion, the world over agrees that Islam is a dominant face of religions that make up the world stage. Islam, fundamentalist, extremist, Sunni, Shi’a, Sufi, moderate or mystical is a force to be reckoned with as it shapes culture, politics and the future.

Thus, the conflict.

As Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf made plans to build an Islamic center close to Ground Zero he kick-started what is now an international fracas over religion, rights and radicalism.


Because his, and his followers’, freedom to build their Islamic center in any place where they have purchased, rented or legally procured met up against another religion here in the U.S. – American patriotism.

The blood boiling over the Islamic center’s placement near Ground Zero is the same type as that bubbling about flag burning as well. People get downright angry when it comes to defacing what they view as symbols of America and its omnipotence.

Granted, there is an air of understanding here. People love America. For many, the U.S.A. has given them the world. They would die for their country and in their own way, see an Islamic center near Ground Zero or an American flag being burnt as an offense equal to what it is to burn a Q’uran in the face of a Muslim.

Thus, they rail against the freedoms of others to build such an Islamic center or burn an American flag; just like Muslims cry out concerning Q’uran burning and their right to build an Islamic center wherever they like to.

The same freedoms are at stake. And yet, for one side public opinion is favorable, and to the other public opinion is downright nasty.

Terry Jones was condemned left and right for his proposed actions. Imam Abdul Rauf is garnering more and more support from people of many religious backgrounds throughout the U.S.A. and the world.

What my wife pointed out is that the same rights are at stake and yet in the midst of this conflict nobody mentioned Terry Jones’ rights. Likewise, not too many people (spare my insightful wife) saw how what Imam Abdul Rauf is doing is tantamount to Q’uran burning for faithful American patriot-zealots.

I am all for religious freedom.

I am all for justice and peace.

I am not one for conflict.

I do not approve of Terry Jones’ proposed actions.

But now, I am questioning my previously liberal position on the Imam and the Islamic center. In my view, this man is stepping on incendiary ground and should step away before anyone gets burned. Terry Jones received international pressure to back off because lives could be lost following a book burning. As Elizabeth noted, people could also be beaten, injured or killed if this Islamic center gets built.

In the end, the Imam should be counseled to temper his freedom with an appropriate amount of justice in order to avoid unnecessary conflict. That is, if he wants the peace he claims the mosque is all about (read it here).

In fact, we all must.

Our freedoms are our freedoms. No doubt about it.

However, if peace (and for my Christian brothers and sisters, the Shalom of Christ and his kingdom in all hearts) is our end goal then we must, at times, restrict our freedoms for the sake others and their rights.

I know, because I often stumble here.

May we all hear and heed the words of St. Paul as he writes to people like the Galatians, the Corinthians and us:

“For you were called to freedom, my brothers and sisters. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to gratify your own desires, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed as well.” (Galatians 5:13-15)

“Take care that your freedom does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak…sinning against your brothers and sisters and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ…Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you the workmanship of the Lord?….Nevertheless, we have not made use of our freedom, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 8: 9, 12; 9:1, 12b)

Peace .


Filed under Christianity, Islam, Religion and the Public Sphere