The popularity of the Harry Potter series is not only due to J.K.Rowling's wonderful talent, but it is also due to the nature of the time period in which we live. As evidenced by Madonna's reported multimillion dollar gift towards a center for Kabbalah, the desire to understand spirituality and mysticism is increasing every year. More and more, people are delving into the world of the spirit, ironically while the world of science and technology is making leaps and bounds.
Some thinkers conjecture that it is precisely the overwhelming technology in our lives with cell phones, computers, beepers, and PDA's, that is causing our spirit to gnaw at us, as if to say, "Don't forget about me!" The psychology of man is very complex and it's difficult to guess why the interest in the world of the spirit is on the rise. A marked increase has even been reported in the numbers of witches, druids, pantheists, and reported demonic possessions, not to mention the world of entertainment's contributions.
Although the more popular mystical offerings like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Harry Potter, all bring out our wish fulfillment for supernatural powers, just like Superman, Batman, and other superheroes, it's noticeable that the occult-centered fantasy world has become the predominant focus in society. Is there a mystical explanation for all this?
J.K. Rowling's wonderful imagination pulls back the curtain for us on a magical mystical world. Our hearts yearn to touch the spiritual realm, and she gives us that vicarious experience. Not only did she do this well from a literary standpoint, but she also happens to have impeccable timing.
According to our tradition, the time has come for the world to reach its final stage. God has been orchestrating history, and the perfection of mankind is the endpoint of all creation. If you believe in a wise and infinite Being, this scenario is perfectly logical. How can He leave this world in such disarray forever? There has to be a culmination which includes the enlightenment and perfection of all mankind.
This culmination may come today, tomorrow, next year or in 200 or so more years, but we are clearly near the end of human history as we know it. All this sorcery that the public is coming in contact with is merely a teaser, a hint, and a counterfeit of the true power of mankind that lies in our connection to the Infinite Being. (I don't fault Rowling since she's writing fiction, but it is a gaping hole in the series that she never mentions God. If she did, she'd have to admit that "muggles", non magic folk, can also cause supernatural events to happen.) Our souls are groping in the dark for this connection to the Infinite, which they sense is so close.
Of course fiction is not reality, but merely what we would imagine is going on in another realm, yet some of the things in Harry Potter do have a basis in the history of Kabbalah. A kabbalist is not a magician, and the powers of the Kabbalah cannot merely be studied and then used. But a holy person well versed in Kabbalah can manipulate many of the laws of physics. They usually chose not to because they understand that God made the laws of nature for a reason and usually does not want them to be abrogated. They don't, however, use a wand, unless you count the staffs of Moses and Aaron. Actually one of the more powerful weapons used that is mentioned in the Talmud is something we all have. Eyes. A special "look" from a sage could have a deadly impact.
Words are very powerful as well, so certain formulas of words can have healing effects, or can ward off danger. They are used differently than a magical incantation, but there is a striking similarity.
In Harry Potter there are ghosts, and other spirits that inhabit the magic school, Hogwarts. We have many recorded experiences of kabbalists communicating with similar beings. Spirits of those passed away can come back and have contact with us, and demons can inhabit unusual places. But, unlike Hogwarts, there is rarely a form or shape that one can see.
It is especially interesting to note that the one thing none of the magicians are able to do in Harry Potter is bring the dead back to life, yet this was known to be a talent that many kabbalists had during the Talmudic era. We even see specific accounts of this with Elijah the prophet, and his student Elisha. When a person is strongly connected with God, the source of life, they can be a conduit to bring life back into a person who recently passed away. This may have something to do with the tradition that the soul does not leave the surroundings of the body until the burial.
These "tricks" or special abilities have never been a major aspect of Kabbalah but only a side point. Those who understand that God runs every molecule of existence aren't particularly impressed with these types of small miracles. And the true goal of the study of any knowledge worth having is only to understand the Creator a little bit better. That is what Kabbalah is really all about. Becoming one with God.
Now that's real magic.
Max Weiman teaches and writes on spirituality and kabbalah. His website http://www.kabbalahmadeeasy.com is one of the premier kabbalah sites. His two books, A Simple Guide to Happiness, and A Map of the Universe, are available at amazon.com