“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.” –Dumbledore (J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)
I very recently have discovered a podcast called Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. Simply put, the goal of the podcast is reading back through the seven Harry Potter books, chapter by chapter, and treating them as a sacred text. What does that mean? There are ways of studying, reading and connecting with sacred texts using spiritual techniques, just as members of some religious communities might study the Quran, Bible, Torah and others. In this case, the creators of the podcast use a theme to read each chapter of the Harry Potter series against and engage in spiritual practices each week to unlock more from the text. Find information about the creators, their project and listen to episodes at the Harry Potter and the Sacred Text website.
You all are very familiar by now with my goal of cultivating deeper connections with what we read, in whatever form that takes. Well, this podcast and the idea it holds up are right up that alley. I urge you to check it out when you have a moment. You’ll love it if you’re into HP and if for some reason you’re not, try a couple of episodes on for size to get the gist of the project.
What is a Sacred Text?
This podcast has got me thinking about the other ways that we treat books as sacred texts, whether or not that is their intended use. What makes something sacred? What makes a book sacred? What are some of the interactions that we share with books that make them more than just a book? How does our connection with fandoms and fellow book lovers mirror or become a spiritual community? What are the ways that books can truly change us (or we can change ourselves) through reading in this way?
Some common definitions of “sacred” include
- connected with God (gods) or dedicated to a religious purpose
- embodying laws or doctrines of a religion
- regarded with respect and reverence by a particular religion, group or individual
Previously, I had thought of a sacred text as being more connected to the first two given definitions and including something akin to the religious texts I listed above. This is probably what comes to mind for most of us. Now, however, I think sacred text has a meaning that could expand beyond religion to include a more subjective perspective, as evidenced in the last definition. A book that one person might consider sacred may not be to another, just as different books appeal to different people. The founding documents or laws of a country might similarly be considered sacred to some.
So, are there books that we use as a sacred text, even when that is not necessarily their intended purpose? For example, are there chapters, passages and lines in fiction that we turn to when we are looking for guidance, solace or assurance? Those quotes may have something or nothing to do with an individual’s religious beliefs. There are books that I now recognize that I connect with on a spiritual level, but I haven’t thought of it in those terms before. What about our very favorite books? Maybe there is something sacred about our reverence of them.
When we have favorite books, we often commune with others about them. Are those conversations sometimes spiritual experiences? Could some quotes we pull from texts be treated as personal doctrines? Coming back to Harry Potter as an example, there are many quotes (from Dumbledore in particular) that speak to the values that I hold. There is something spiritual and sacred about reading, repeating and writing them. Think about what books or quotes resonate with you on a similar level.
How are Books Treated as Sacred Texts?
I would imagine there are countless ways to engage with a text in a spiritual or sacred way. Is there a practice you currently use to read a sacred text? Or a technique that you learned in the past? Why not begin there and see where it takes you?
One example I will give (this is a technique the creators of the podcast above employ) is called lectio divina, or “sacred reading” in Latin. This practice involves selecting a passage, at random or by specific choice, and reflecting upon it. This can be done in many ways. You might take a mindful walk and allow the passage to marinate. Or sit quietly and contemplate it. The goal isn’t necessarily to analyze what the passage means, but more so to hear what it has to tell you.
The way the co-hosts of Harry Potter and the Sacred Text use lectio divina is a four step process, described as four different levels of reading:
- In the first step, the passage is read (aloud, if in a group setting) and the literal meaning established. What is literally happening in that moment in the text?
- Next, the passage is searched for allegory and metaphors that may be present. What symbols are recognized?
- Third is a period of reflection and drawing parallels between the text and your personal life or a current situation. The co-hosts of HPatST also use this time to connect it with the theme they’ve chosen to read through that week.
- The final step is an invitation to honor your efforts thus far in the reading and to decipher what you feel called to do. What action is the passage calling you to perform?
You can use these steps, your own or explore other methods of studying a sacred text. You might consider choosing a theme, which acts as a lens to see the text through, such as love, hardship, compassion or jealousy. See what ways the theme pops up in your reading when you’re looking for it. What does the text have to say about it? There may be something more to gain from the books you read, especially your favorites, by doing a spiritual reading of them. Give it a try and see what you think!
I’d love to continue this conversation with you. Please weigh in! What makes a book sacred? Are there books that you might now or already did consider sacred to yourself? What technique will you use to do a spiritual reading?