The opening of the new Harry Potter film, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” today will bring both avid fans and staunch critics to the forefront. Some will even decry the series as one that teaches children the art of witchcraft, while others will compare the characters and their practices with real people who practice Wicca.
So what does a practicing Wiccan have to say about all the stereotyping, assumptions and criticisms?
“It’s very sad that people have such polarized views about this series,” says Maria Kay Simms, a Kensington resident, Wiccan high priestess, and Harry Potter fan who has been practicing Wicca since 1987. “These people are confusing a Halloween secular idea with a spiritual path that has nothing to do with it.”
Simms says she reads about opposition every time a new book or movie comes out. “A lot of the objectors are fundamentalist Christians who don’t understand what they are objecting to.”
Simms, also an astrologer and published author, began her study of Wicca with the Covenant of the Goddess Group in San Diego in 1987 after experimenting with many different spiritual paths, including Catholicism. She prefers to keep a low profile with her beliefs here in New Hampshire, largely because of some of the criticisms Wiccans draw from those who, she says, are uneducated or closed-minded.
“It’s very inaccurate, first to compare Wiccans to the characters in Harry Potter, and secondly to say that the books teach Wicca to children,” she says. “It is sad that people let their ignorance of what they think they are against be directed at this series when the correlation clearly isn’t there.”
The fact that the books mainly take place in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry brings a “knee-jerk reaction” from protesters, according to Simms. But she notes that Halloween is never mentioned anywhere in the book, while the students celebrate Christmas each year.
“People make a big issue about Halloween, but the secular customs of most holidays are pagan,” Simms says, adding that Wiccans celebrate Samhein (pronounced Sow-wen) around the time of Halloween to honor those who have passed over and the end of the earth cycle.
Simms says there is no religion anywhere in the Harry Potter series. “No one should fear kids reading these books,” she says. “There is no religion apparent in the book at all, no mention of the god or goddess, and nothing in the Muggle (non-witch) community regarding Christianity either. The books do have a very magical quality about them, however, as it is a series that induced a lot of children to read in an electronic generation.”
Simms adds that she reads all the books and takes her grandchildren to see the movies when they are released. “I don’t believe (author) J.K. Rowling had any deliberate motivation about what she did in these books. She has a wonderful way with words, and I was so impressed with the books from the first one on, even before the description of Hogwarts,” she says. “I suspect those who complain haven’t even read the books and are just reacting to the idea.”
Simms says she believes that parents worrying about their children looking to another religion should first look to their own practices. “A lot of times, kids turning to other religions is not about an attraction but a discomfort or dissatisfaction of the religion they’re in,” she says. “In the case of the books, parents should not withhold that privilege from them. Reading Harry Potter wouldn’t discourage kids from the religion their parents are teaching them.”
Still, a feeling of disappointment resonates with Simms over the controversy. “I don’t feel anger when I hear the comparisons, I just think it’s regrettable that some deprive their kids of reading inspirational writing. I imagine things like this encourage creativity, and this is a time when creativity is needed in kids.”
Simms says she fully intends to see “Goblet of Fire” when it is released, and she plans to take her grandchildren. “I’ve seen the evidence of positive influence these stories have had on my granddaughter,” she says. “I urge parents to read the books themselves so they can see if there is any religion. But these books will be classics. I don’t volunteer to argue with people, but I would try to convince them that there is nothing to worry about in ‘Harry Potter.’”
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