Harry Potter and the Spiritual Quest

Every once in a while I like to share with you all some of what I have on my website. Today it’s a long overdue post about Harry Potter and how one can interpret his magical adventures from a spiritual perspective. It makes sense to start with what Helene Vachet has to say about Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (aka Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone). She sees the whole Harry Potter series as a spiritual quest and goes into how that particular book is about a quest. It’s a search on the practical level as well, of course. Like all the Harry Potter books it’s part mystery in the ‘let’s solve the mystery’ sense.

John Algeo, a researcher and teacher of English, looks at the Harry Potter series in a more literary and analytical light in his piece Harry Potter and the Ancient Wisdom:

The books are examples of three literary genres. One is the bildungsroman, or novel of the moral and psychological education of the protagonist; Harry Potter is a student at a boarding school, but is also in the great school of Life. Another genre is the quest story, in which the protagonist faces a series of trials, the passing of which results in the discovery of a great treasure–in Harry’s case, self-knowledge. And the third is the fairy tale, whose central character is often an orphan; Harry is an orphan and thus a fitting representative of every human being, for we are all, in the words of one of the great Theosophical teachers, members of “poor orphan humanity.”

In his article about the Chamber of Secrets, John Algeo analyses the quest aspect of that book as follows:

In his second year, Harry learns, among other things, about the three marks of existence that the Buddha taught, namely (1) that life involves suffering, (2) that we have no enduring separate self, and (3) that everything is constantly changing or transforming. Indeed, transformation is the key theme of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

On a more psychological level, many of the books, including the final one, are about the search for a father. John Algeo goes into that theme in particular in his article analyzing Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. He finds four father figures for Harry: Sirius Black, who was James Potter’s best friend, best man at his wedding, and godfather to Harry. He symbolizes devotion for Harry. The teacher and werewolf Remus Lupin stands for Knowledge. Dumbledore the headmaster of the school, but always a controversial figure, stands for intuition and last but not least, the dead James Potter, stands for the eternal wisdom we can only find in ourselves.

William W. Quinn in his article Harry Potter and Maximizing Cyclic Opportunities, analyses some of the themes from the perennial wisdom tradition that J.K. Rowling uses.

Last but not least, John Algeo’s remarkable article about the last of the series: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. In this article, written before the book was out, he foreshadows many of the themes in the book correctly. Though he notes that he’s no seer, he is apparently well versed enough in literature to have done a fine job none the less.

2 thoughts on “Harry Potter and the Spiritual Quest”

  1. I am having great difficulty in understanding most persons use of the word ‘spirituality.’ I realize it has been used to indicate activity reserved to the clergy, but also believe that is not what is meant here.

    My dictionary also calls it a sensitivity to religious values. Is that what is meant here?

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