What might J.K. Rowling be offering in the way of parenting advice?

Abbey at duskMy favorite line in the new Harry Potter movie comes when Dumbledore, having just teleported himself and Harry to the scene of a wrecked house in some remote village supposes that Harry is wondering what’s going on, to which Harry replies that after six years he’s learned to “just go with it.”

The zeitgeist (or spirit of the time) is an interesting beast; many try to guess where it’s heading (not to mention try endlessly to cash in on it) but it has a way of surprising us.  My kids have grown up with Harry Potter, it has become tradition to listen to the audio version of the newest book on our summer driving trips and so we all went on the journey together, but each used our own minds and imaginations to conjure up what it looked like to us.

One reason that Harry Potter may be so popular is that, in all its fantastical scenarios, it somehow manages to express some sort of authentic truth.  Of course Harry as Orphan is a tried and true archetype from Moses to Oliver Twist, one that gives kids a chance to unconsciously face their worst fears and have vicariously arrive at an empowered and successful outcome.  Yet Harry is only a beloved avatar who guides us into the magical realm—to Hogwarts and the wizarding world as a place where, in the midst of fantasy, we might find something real.

My favorite “character” in Harry Potter (and a place where the Potter movies truly step up to the possibility of their medium) is Hogwarts itself.  Who doesn’t want to cozy by the fire and hang with Harry, Ron and Hermione in Gryffindor?  Who doesn’t want to ramble down to Hagrid’s for some help with an adventure?  Who doesn’t want to be in the great hall when it’s all decked out for the Holidays?  Hogwarts, in fact, could be thought of as a prototype of the world temple that Jung suggested would be co-created by humanity over the six hundred years after his time—a coming together of the threads of the human, and beyond human, story.

A lovely aspect of Hogwarts, and the Harry Potter oeuvre, is that it opens the third wall and invites us in.  To the extent that magic might be real, J.K. Rowling dares to reveal the secrets while at the same time hiding them by cloaking them in the deceptively simple invisibility cloak called “imagination.”  As I like to say, the gold is in the poop; and the fact that Harry Potter has made fortunes at both Gringots and in the muggle world, only helps catch the attention of thick and unseeing muggles who continue to envision the future as an apocalypse where they hope not to avert it, but to sell tickets.

The spirit of Harry Potter, born of a single mom’s imagination when needing to take care of her child, is at once exclusive and wide open to us.  Like Tinkerbelle, real magic just needs us to believe in it.  Those of us who allow the magic of the spell of Harry Potter into our hearts realize that we too, by grace of J.K. Rowling’s shamanistic vision, are invited into a shared vision. 

Hogwarts itself is like a collective symbol of the Self:  a sacred temple where, in counterpoint to Nietzsche, God is not dead at all, but rather pulsing with the endless interplay of light and dark.  Unlike church and temple, Hogwarts is never boring to children.  It is full of adventure, lessons, dangers and relationships of all sorts.  It mingles the dream world and the worlds of books and learning, sport and romance; it offers children (and the child in all of us) another crack at “school.” 

Life itself can be re-conceptualized as a school for the soul, an experimental play-space rather like Hogwarts.  In fact, one of the most common dream motifs I see in my work as a psychologist (and in my own dreams) is some sort of back-in-school scenario.  This is the unconscious telling us that new learning is in order.

In the old world order, those who could “see” were on the outside of the group—shamans, priests, prophets and visionaries.  One of the positive shifts that the age of Christ offered to usher in was the “tearing of the veil” wherein the curtain that divided the high priest in the Jewish Temple from the world was ripped, allowing everyone to have direct access to the divine presence.  Whether it is the cave wall, the curtain screening the holiest of holies, or the screens in movie theaters and on computers and phones; one still must open one’s own eyes and really look at what is before us.

When I was talking to my twelve-year-old about the idea that time may ultimately be an illusion, he referenced Harry Potter and the extraction of memory as a way in which one character “time travels” to events that are always happening.  If time is one axis, space is another; and from Dumbledore’s ability to transport himself to the death-eaters’ working with vanishing cabinets to create wormholes into Hogwarts, we see that J.K. Rowling is teaching the fundamentals of philosophy to a new generation of kids who would think the classics would be boring.  Yet she knows her way around the racial storehouse of collective memory, picking and choosing just the right archetype in which to invest one energy or another to bring incredibly ancient, and yet timeless, themes to new life for children who will need them as they usher in a new consciousness.

As a parent, it is poignant to see the characters grow up in Harry Potter, as well as to see the actors themselves grow up.  Meanwhile, these stories have an effect on us parents as well, subtly helping our playful and yet ancient consciousness re-surface… to educate means to draw out, and this is what JK Rowling so artfully does.  As parents (with my own self first in line and forever still getting a stern talking to from Minerva MGonagall) we must do the magic of letting our kids “educate” our souls about the wizarding world (which they still intimately understand and inhabit until we talk them out of it) while we simultaneously and symbiotically “educate” their abilities to get along in the muggle world… until we all work together to “make” (i.e. educate) the world and discover that it is just a little more compassionately magical than we might have thought.

So let’s dedicate today to imagining that we can create a better world for all of our collective children; and that this process can be meaningful, fun, interesting and rife with challenges that are vivid and bond us all to each other.  Today is a fantastic adventure if we take the wand that JK (Just Kidding?) offers and use it to transform not the world so much as the way we see, hear, taste and experience the world.

Namaste, Bruce

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