Podcast Review: Harry Potter and the Sacred Text


Potterheads rejoice! Are you a diehard Potter fan who hasn’t been satisfied with J.K. Rowling’s latest releases? (Like, seriously what even was “The Cursed Child?” It didn’t even make sense, but that’s another review for another time.)

Rest assured, the brave knights Vanessa Zoltan and Casper ter Kuile have risen from the rubble of the Harry Potter community and are rebuilding it with a genuine love for the series and its community.

Once a week, Zoltan, ter Kuile and their team release an episode for their podcast “Harry Potter and the Sacred Text,” reflecting on each chapter and exploring it through the lens of different themes like “commitment,” “revenge” and “forgiveness.”

If hosting a podcast about Harry Potter was a competitive career field, Zoltan and ter Kuile would certainly be the most qualified individuals for the job.

Zoltan is a research assistant at Harvard Divinity School and is currently working on a book about treating Jane Eyre and Harry Potter as sacred texts. Her work has been written about in The New York Times and covered on CNN. Zoltan also blogs for the Huffington Post.  

Ter Kuile is a Ministry Innovation Fellow at Harvard Divinity School and a strategist at the podcast “On Being.” Ter Kuile is the co-author of the report “How We Gather,” a cultural map of millennial communities, and the co-founder of the UK Youth Climate Coalition and Campaign Bootcamp. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Boston Globe and on NPR.

If that doesn’t spell “QUALIFIED,” I don’t know what does.

Zoltan and ter Kuile had the audacity to ask, “What if we read the books we love as if they were sacred?” To which the rest of the world replied, “What do you mean by ‘sacred’?”

The “Sacred Text” duo believes that although the Harry Potter text is, of itself, not sacred, it can be made sacred by:

  • Trusting the text; by taking the text seriously and making it worthy of attention and contemplation. The more time we give to the text, the more blessings it gives to us.
  • Using rigor and ritual; reading the text slowly, repeatedly and with concentrated attention, particularly rigorously engaging in ritual reading.
  • By reading in a community. Scholars of religion explain that what makes a text sacred is not the text itself, but the community of readers that proclaim is as such.

Zoltan and ter Kuile use traditional forms of sacred reading from a variety of different religions as a basis for their podcast, such as Lectio Divina, Havruta, Ignatian Spirituality, Floralegium and PaRDeS.

Just as Christians read the Bible, Jews the Torah and Muslims the Quran, Zoltan and ter Kuile are on a journey to glean what wisdom and meaning they can from J.K. Rowling’s beloved novels.

I am beginning to wonder how they will keep their viewership numbers up because of repetitive routine. Each podcast starts with a 30-second recap of the chapter, a story that relates to the theme, the spiritual practice and then a blessing for the text for every single episode.

However, they keep it interesting by having professional guest speakers who are relevant to the episode’s topic of discussion.

As a long-time listener, I believe that Zoltan and ter Kuile have been accomplishing their goal of relating Harry Potter text to real-world lessons, but it is their nerdy and friendly personalities that keep me coming back for more each week.

A problem I have with the podcast is that Zoltan has made several untasteful remarks, one of them in defense to a child abuser (Petunia Dudley, Harry Potter’s abusive aunt). After being called out for her comments, Zoltan apologized on a later podcast while also defending what she said. I was upset with her comments but respected her for not backing out of what she said and for defending herself.

Zoltan and ter Kuile began this podcast with pure intentions to respect the text as it is, while making it fun with an interesting approach of spiritual practice and I highly recommend giving this podcast a listen. It has made me laugh, cry and think deeply about life’s greatest questions. Beware if you’ve never read the books, as it does contain spoilers.

For further information, visit the podcast website.


Carson Wolf