By Marie Peeters-Ney, MD and Philip G. Ney, M.D., M.A., FRCP(C), FRANZCP, RPsych
Originally published in Catholic Insight December 2003
Republished with permission and encouragement of authors
One could speak about a worldwide "Harry Potter phenomenon," appearing soon after the Pokemon craze. The object of this discussion is to reflect on the possible reasons for the remarkable popularity of Harry Potter.
Can the current craze be only due to good marketing skills? Does this book have exceptional literary value? Could the book be an indicator of a deeper cultural trend? We wish to hypothesize that the popularity of the Harry Potter series is due to the fact that the themes and the main character strike deep chords in the minds of our younger generation because they are abortion survivors.
They identify with them, because Harry Potter appears to hold the key to unlock the deep, unresolved conflicts which the young generation has buried in its unconscious. We write this short article after reading the first book of the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. We will not expand on the progressive downward spiral commented on by numerous other authors.
Some cultural events may transcend generational gaps and cultural differences because they reflect our common humanity, its aspirations, hopes and struggles. Some may shape human thought and influence the course of history. Others are a reflection of the mindset that is in vogue and are thus just an expression of the times. Others go further: they express a facet of the times and present it as the norm, thus shaping the thought of an era and influencing the course of current thinking.
Much has been written about the Potter series and considerable controversy has arisen about it. However, there has not, to our knowledge, been anything written which analyzes some of the deeper reasons for the success of the Potter series. Such an analysis is important in order to gain understanding both of the reasons for its success and to judge the work itself.
In 1979, Dr. Philip Ney discovered and described people with a unique constellation of signs and symptoms, whom he called "abortion survivors." The malaise they suffer from is called the post-abortion survivor syndrome (PASS). Post-abortion survivors are all those individuals who could have been aborted, but mere chance or the fact that they were wanted saved them from termination.
Examples are: people who were born in a family where a sibling was aborted; people whose parents told them they should have been aborted; or people born in a country where the majority of children are aborted. This applies to at least 50 percent of the people born since the 1970s. Thus, being an abortion survivor affects millions of young people and unquestionably, popular literature is bound to reflect the thinking of those hurt by having an abortion and/or being an abortion survivor.
With few exceptions, the rest of the young population wonders if they were allowed to be born because they were wanted. The world is thus filled with people who have an anxious fascination about issues that the Harry Potter series broadly hints at.
A brief description of the psychopathology associated with being an abortion survivor is necessary to understand the attractiveness of the Harry Potter books.
Children born in families where there has been an abortion live with a mother who is struggling with her own guilt and grief. They also often have a father who is alienated. Having parents who are prepared to exercise the power of life and death over their children, these children grow up with very ambivalent relationships with their parents - wanting desperately to be close to them, but knowing that it is too dangerous, and wanting to flee, but caught by their emotional and material dependency on them. Deep anger, violence or passivity, intergenerational communication designed to avoid confronting harsh truths and secretiveness are some of the conflicts that are then expressed.
Given the fact that they cannot ask their parents about the real causes of their fears, they grow up in an atmosphere of pseudo-secrets. There are important events and problems they sense their parents or any parental figure will not talk about. Abortion survivors live in a closed, unreal, dehumanized world, communicating with code words and through cyberspace. Communication is mainly between peers, but rivalry, competition and lack of commitment interfere with their relationships.
The first attachment, that to mother, was an anxious attachment that resulted in ambivalence and conflict. Abortion survivors grow up with self-doubt and very ambivalent relationships to others. People are used, not loved.
Abortion survivors have cut themselves off from all their emotions, except fear and anger. They feel they have no intrinsic right to be. Their right to exist depends on their being wanted. Having made it into the world, they survive by gaining power, by trickery and seduction. They must "have" to be: money, good looks, sports prowess, magic powers, etc. Only by having can they continue to be wantable and thus to continue to exist. Unable to trust, they live in a world of fear, with nobody to turn to. They suffer from nightmares in which their aborted sibling (who is not always identified as such) is seeking revenge, full of rage for her wrongful death and full of anger against the sibling who is alive. The surviving siblings feel like a weight on their shoulders and a permanent curse from the aborted sibling. They are, therefore, threatened in their very existence, both from the seen and unseen world.
Abortion survivors flirt with death and seek control. They often seek answers and power in the occult.
The genius of Ms Rowling is to have consciously or unconsciously tapped into the secret world of abortion survivors. Her first book described the world of abortion survivors: a world where all is "unreal," dominated by primary relationships with peers, absent parents, a dread of being used, abused or killed by caretakers who have no love or understanding. Ms Rowling describes people who have everything, but live in fear that their "secret" will be discovered (the Dursleys). The real world is so awful that Harry Potter thought, "He did not know where he was going (to witchcraft school), but it had to be better than what he was leaving behind ..."
In inventing the character Harry Potter, Ms Rowling introduces the reader to a person whom an abortion survivor can relate to.
Harry is the "boy that lived," although physically marked by the sign of death and wanted dead by a satanic figure. On his forehead, he is scarred, he is special, he is a survivor. He witnesses the death of an innocent creature by one who has nothing to lose and everything to gain by committing such a heinous crime. The centaur tells him "because the blood of the innocent will keep you alive, even if you are inches from death, but at a terrible price … You have slain something pure and defenceless to save yourself, you will have but half a life, a cursed life from the moment the blood touches your lips."
Harry Potter is emotionally, physically and verbally abused by caregivers, but he feels little pain and sheds no tears. The only emotions he seems to feel are fear and hatred. He is not allowed to ask questions. He does not know his own story, although he knows there is a secret about him. He has been dehumanized. He lives in a world of fear, plagued by the recurrent nightmare of a hooded, faceless figure who drinks the blood of the innocent victim. As Ronan, the centaur explains, "Always the innocent are the first victims …"
The fear of death that is present in all abortion survivors is usually dealt with by flirting with death, so that the person imagines he has some control over life and death. Harry Potter exemplifies this when he is told, "Don’t stop and don’t be scared you’ll crash into it, that is important. Best do it at a bit of a run if you are nervous …" When Harry Potter did it, he closed his eyes, ready for a crash.
Using coded language, Rowling has been able to put into written form the unrevealed and unspoken fears of the abortion survivor. She expressed in writing psychological conflicts that generally only appear in nightmares. Many of the struggles experienced by children, and which she fantasizes about in her Harry Potter series, have been expressed in the terrifying dreams of abortion survivors. For example:
- somebody tried or wanted to kill you (Harry’s teacher, Mr. Quirrell, trying to kill him)
- the feeling that one is surrounded by invisible people, some of whom are hostile and wish your death (Harry looks into the mirror and sees a whole crowd of people standing right behind him)
- shedding blood, murdering your sibling (in fantasy), so that you can live half a life (Mr. Quirrell drinking the blood of an innocent, pure victim to stay alive, although at a terrible cost)
- the feeling of being burdened by a parasite, a hostile sibling who hangs on to you and prevents you from living (Mr. Quirrell, a man with two faces, carrying a half-dead Voldmort who explains that he has a form only when he can share another’s body and who dreams to create a body for himself)
- and, of course, the terrifying reality that somebody is angry at the survivor for being alive (Voldmort’s anger at Harry Potter)
Ms Rowling also appeals to the abortion survivor, because she briefly touches on some of the deepest yearnings of all humans for life and meaning. (Harry finally finds somebody who watches over him). However, having opened up this yearning, she sends the reader away empty-handed. She remarkably and accurately describes and expands on the dark side of a humanity without God. The themes she develops are anti-thetical to the glory of Christian revelation. She illustrates the morbid fascination abortion survivors have for control and power, even if these are dark and frightening.
Harry Potter looks for the stone that confers eternal life. This is clearly opposed to Christian revelation. He experiences a mother’s love that is so strong, it is capable of burning and destroying the enemy, a caricature which is quite obvious.
Ms Rowling appeals to the more pathological dreams of the abortion survivors. She describes transfiguration as one of the most complex and dangerous kinds of magic. She describes a world of magic and of power. "There is no good and evil, only power and those too weak to seek it." In the Harry Potter world, there is the mirror of Erised, which shows us what we want or want to see. A world where one can be special, if one is marked as having survived.
The inventor of Harry Potter describes with great accuracy the world of the abortion survivors. However, in a truly satanic fashion, she leads these broken people in a downward spiral into a world that is not life-giving, but one of death and despair. She shows them the way to an illusion of power, which is without life and which is the realm of Satan.
Harry Potter can become a cult, making people feel they are understood and will understand the truth and then deliberately lead them away from the source of Life and Truth. The psychopathology associated with being an abortion survivor is real. It needs to be understood by those involved in the new evangelization. We now need people who are saintly enough to descend into the pit of hell where they are and who can bring them to the light. Preaching Jesus Christ is a work of love, healing and life. It is a work of mercy.
Philip G. Ney trained as a child psychiatrist and child psychologist at McGill University, University of London and the University of Illinois. He taught in five universities in four countries and has been hospital and university department chairman.
As an academic and clinician of more than thirty five years, he has done research into child abuse for more than thirty years and has authored or co-authored 66 scientific papers and 7 books.
In his early research Professor Ney became increasingly aware of the reciprocal connection between child abuse and abortion. More recently he has studied children who are the survivors of abortion. He is conducting therapeutic groups for men and women abused as children in private practice in Victoria, British Columbia.
As a semi-retired professor, Philip Ney is currently researching the effects of various kinds of pregnancy losses on women’s physical and mental health. With wife Dr. Marie Peeters-Ney, Philip conducts training sessions world-wide.
Dr Marie Peeters-Ney is an American. Having obtained her medical training in Belgium and her paediatric specialty training in the USA and Canada, she worked at the University of Paris with the world-famous geneticist, Jerome Lejeune, and won an important scientific prize for her research into the biochemical causes of mental retardation.