Question: I heard one exorcist say “Harry Potter” is demonic and another says it is not, that it has some good morals. One also said kids got possessed just reading it. How do we know what is just myth or demonic or OK to do or superstitious or bad? I am also so tired of being scrupulous and feeling afraid to do anything or of seeing even hints of what is bad. Even superheroes are now suspicious to some.
— Jean, via email
Answer: As with many things, it is not possible to isolate oneself from every possible thing in life that might cause trouble or possibly become tainted or misused. When we were kids (I am 62), there were many “dark tales” and legends involving everything from trolls, gnomes, mermaids, fairies and superheroes to more sinister things such as dragons and demons and glorified criminals (e.g. Goodfellas). Magic too, in various forms, from entertainment to more evil attempts at sorcery and curses, exists in human history. To some degree, these were intended to teach that there are forces, beyond the merely physical, that must be acknowledged and that our main battles are not with flesh and blood but with dark principalities and powers in the higher orders (cf. Eph 6:12). Human beings have encountered such realities and recounted them over the years in story, myth and legend books, and movies. Surely, we know from Scripture, that there are angels and demons. Merely knowing these and other things does not amount to an approval of them or a desire to be joined to the dark forces that are acknowledged.
That said, being overly fascinated with such dark things can be dangerous and a violation of the First Commandment. To attribute manipulative powers to control reality or set the future violates the First Commandment, for God is not overcome by anything or anyone; there is only one God. Other aspects mentioned above can also indicate a superstitious fear and a desire to control things, which supplants God’s providence.
As for “Harry Potter,” it can be harmless or dangerous based on the maturity of those who read it. To say, in any broad sense, that children are possessed just by reading it is not born out by the facts. Otherwise, we’d have hundreds of millions of possessed people due to the wide popularity of the series. One ought to be cautious in reading such things, but overly restricting or demonizing the series usually backfires by making it more desirable to the disobedient. But far better and more rooted in Christian faith are series such as “The Lord of the Rings” or “The Chronicles of Narnia.” These both edify and enchant, as well as educate in basic Christian principles. Most superhero narratives are harmless enough.
Halloween can be treated in a similar manner. For most of us who grew up in more “innocent” times, it was just good fun; a kind of poking fun and the ghouls and goblins that sought to terrify us. In more recent times there are more sinful themes and a celebration of evil that have tainted it all. Here, too, why not just encourage kids to dress up as saints or other edifying figures such as patriots, nuns or astronauts?
As any exorcist will note, outright possession is rare, but the lesser oppression by demons is a growing phenomenon. In the end, we have more reasons today to avoid references or fascination with the dark or demonic aspects, and far more reasons to stay close to the saints, the Word of God, the sacraments and the holy liturgy.