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Hallo again to all.

Recently several UK national newspapers reported that a 'leaked report commissioned by police' described witchcraft and sacrifice in London churches. Headlines such as 'Children sacrificed in London churches' claimed, in the stories, that those churches, predominantly African in terms of their membership, were 'obsessed by witchcraft, exorcism and evil spirits'. Lord Stevens, recently retired commissioner of the Metropolitan police, urged Britons to 'stop this madness costing children's lives'. The Guardian, a liberal-leaning London newspaper, later called this a case of the media whipping up a racist witch-hunt.

On 16 July the sixth Harry Potter book was released. There was a flurry of global publicity for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the next-to-last of the Harry Potter series. Publication-industry clairvoyants expect it to be the fastest-selling book ever. The Harry Potter books have their greatest distribution in the former British Empire countries that were also once the core of Anglicanism.

It would not surprise us to learn that the number of Harry Potter books sold in the last 48 hours was greater than the number of people outside Africa who attended an Anglican worship service during those same 48 hours. It's many Sundays after Pentecost, there are no major feasts to draw the wavering into church, and the weather is at its extreme, hot or cold depending on whether you live in the podes or the antipodes.

It's hard to call the global reaction to the new Harry Potter book anything but an obsession. We don't mind the book; some of us at Anglicans Online have already bought our copies and are looking forward to reading them*. But newspapers showed pictures of young adults dressed in wizard costumes queued up outside booksellers waiting to get their copy. Though we haven't read this latest book yet, we note that the first five were certainly about witchcraft, exorcism, and evil spirits, not to mention flying automobiles, murderous trees, enchanted maps and clocks, and invisible trains. We wouldn't think it at all mean-spirited to learn that an African newspaper had run a front-page story noting that the first-world Anglican countries were 'obsessed by witchcraft, exorcism, and evil spirits'.

Despite the publication of The Gospel According to Harry Potter, every time a new Harry Potter book or motion picture is released, some priest or bishop denounces it as anti-Christian, evil pagan jetsam. If that protest makes the news, it will be somewhere on page 7 of the Local section, while the front page will note that 10 million copies of the book were sold in 48 hours. We're confident that not long from now, a group of teenage children visiting England for the first time will step off their tour bus outside, say, Durham Cathedral and marvel 'Wow! It's just like Hogwart's!'**

In the early church, pagan festivals were pre-empted to be Christian festivals. Rather than fight Saturnalia, we turned it into Christmas and put the Star of Bethlehem on top of the tree to change it from a pagan symbol into a religious symbol. There are similar stories about Paschal traditions; 'Eastra', for isntance, was the Saxon goddess of Spring. Why not do the same with Harry Potter?

If we had a stack of gold bars, millions of pounds or euros or dollars, we'd fancy the idea of offering a huge award along the lines of the Templeton prize to that parish or diocese that first demonstrated the ability to assimilate the Harry Potter story into Christianity, to make another good story part of the Good News. The yule log is now universally recognized as a Christian symbol despite its origins. Why not Harry Potter? Surely it can happen, and perhaps it should.

See you next week.

Cynthia's signature
Brian's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 17 July 2005

*Other AO staff steadfastly refuse to touch Harry Potter books.
**The Harry Potter movies used Gloucester Cathedral, not Durham Cathedral, as a filming location.

A thin blue line
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