Review – The Seekers Guide to Harry Potter (DVD)

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Title: The Seekers Guide to Harry Potter
Genre: Harry Potter, Fantasy, Adventure
Production Company: Reality Films

Harry Potter has stirred up much controversy. The bestselling children’s fantasy books have delighted literary critics, won countless awards, raised eyebrows from Christian groups, and made their author, J. K. Rowland, a billionaire.

Academics in Cultural Studies, Religion and Mythology have also found within the books a veritable treasure chest of ideas for scholarly analysis.

Contributing to this development, The Seekers Guide to Harry Potter features Dr. Geo Athena Trevarthen of the University of Edinburgh, who brings to her investigation of the Harry Potter series a practical and academic expertise in Celtic Shamanism.

Dr. Trevarthen’s breakdown of the novels draws from a variety of perspectives, from Jungian and transpersonal psychology to the, perhaps, deeper disciplines of ritual magic, alchemy, wizardry and cross-cultural shamanism.

Her exposition is sprinkled with quotes from the Harry Potter novels, along with pithy sayings from leading figures like Joseph Campbell and Mahatma Gandhi.

The Seekers Guide to Harry Potter suggests that the runaway success of the Harry Potter series is, in part, due to its filling a void in contemporary Western culture. This Occidental void has to do with the sense of mystery, magic and, as Rudolf Otto (and later Carl Jung) put it, an encounter with the numinous.

Dr. Trevarthen shows how the protagonist, Harry, aptly fits the bill for the archetypal image of the hero, as expressed in countless fairy tales, folklore, myths and world religions that, despite their differences, also exhibit key similarities.

Filmed in and around Edinburgh, where Dr. Trevarthen lives and works, this film is not only smart but also visually pleasing. Punctuating the commentary are scenes of Dr. Trevarthen reading under a tree in the lush, Scottish countryside, or perhaps brandishing a sword in the ritual manner of a legendary European knight or, to evoke another cultural framework, a medieval Samurai. The film also includes indoor scenes of Dr. Trevarthen in full ritual attire, speaking, singing and positioning a wand in ways keeping with her magico-religious beliefs and practices.

On the topic of magic, some Christians cherry pick the Old Testament to argue that the Bible offers no saving distinction between white and black magic, and that all magic is evil. In actual fact, however, divination (as one form of magic) is alternately prohibited and condoned in different parts of the Old Testament. Meanwhile, other Christian thinkers say there’s a general move away from divination to revelation and a sheer trust in God, this being most apparent in the New Testament.

To those who say that magic is altogether sinful, Dr. Trevarthen clearly disagrees, proposing that magical power, itself, is morally neutral. Drawing on the analogy of electrical power, she says that magical power can be used for good or ill. Accordingly, she believes that white magic and its apparent corollary of profound self knowledge (i.e. gnosis) are useful tools for personal and collective development.

What distinguishes Dr. Trevarthen from some of the more gnarly gnostics, however, is her willingness to engage with Christians in intelligent discourse, as made obvious by her active participation in interdisciplinary conferences and colloquia. And her emphasis on the importance of love, especially in the early childhood years, brings her into close contact with contemporary psychology and, we could say, the underlying thread of all world religions–along with those individuals who simply have their heart in the right place.

But to return to Harry, it seems his incredible journey speaks to anyone finding him- or herself dealing with an initial transition from, and subsequent balancing act between, secular and sacred realities. As Dr. Trevarthen observes, Harry is both regular and special. He suffers and loses much but is repaid more than he could have ever imagined. As such, Harry represents those who truly live rather than just talk about the spiritual life.

Overall, The Seekers Guide to Harry Potter challenges the worldly wise (humorously called “Muggles” in the novels) by not reducing the imagination to biochemistry and neurology but seeing it as evidence for the indwelling of the spirit. Seekers interested in the meeting of fantasy literature and contemporary religious movements should find this DVD an extremely worthwhile part of their collection.

Extras include Dr. Trevarthen discussing beliefs about the four traditional elements of earth, air, fire and water and their correspondence to magical implements.



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