Quest Magazine, November-December 2002
Harry Potter and Maximizing Cyclic Opportunities
By William W. Quinn
Who is Cassandra Vablatsky, and what is the content of her book, Unfogging the Future? On a purely literary level, Cassandra Vablatsky is the author of the textbook Unfogging the Future used in a course in divination at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, whose best known student is the young wizard in training Harry Potter. But what lies behind this fictional author and her fictional book?
One suspects the title of the book has to do with lifting the veil of Isis but, as these are a fictional character and a fictional work both undeveloped by the real author of the Harry Potter stories, there is no dispositive answer to either part of the question. One may, however, speculate, based on the full context of the four existing works of fiction by J. K. Rowling, which follow the exploits of the gifted young wizard, Harry Potter, and in the third of which we encounter the reference to Vablatsky's book. Within the larger context that contains both the fictional Unfogging the Future and its probable referent, the future to be 'unfogged' is not based on any empirical notion of time in a progressive, rectilinear sense, but rather of temporal duration as that occurs in cycles, both microcosmic and macrocosmic as the polar extremes of the principle of periodicity.
It has been asserted by numerous, authoritative expositors of the philosophia perennis, as well as in various prophecies in the West during the last half of the previous millennium, that the world or humanity is fast approaching the end stage of a massive cycle. Since roughly the beginning of the nineteenth century, certain of these metaphysicians began to utilize the growing body of Indic exposition of cycles and duration. This utilization was based on the increased circulation and availability of the Sanskrit texts and their translations in which these matters were treated. So at present, meaningful discourse on these subjects relies in large part on the traditional concept of the yuga and the Sanskrit lexicon of time and duration.
The concept has various subthemes, but as it relates to the cosmogonic duration of our world, a yuga is a system of four ages said to represent kalpa, a process that traces the decline from dharma at the beginning (the krita yuga) to adharma at the end (the kali yuga) or, in other words, a process that traces the disintegration of the human social (and spiritual) order from law to lawlessness and chaos, in which the expression of truth is inverted, and whereby the first shall be last.
At certain junctures in this cyclic process, opportunities present themselves for the increased infusion of light into a darkening world. Often these opportunities are subtle, but for those who are sufficiently sensitive and alert to the signs, the chance to assist in the promulgation of more light is extraordinary. Many people are familiar with the great infusions brought by the renowned lightbearers, such as the scriptures revealed by Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad; the written legacy of the Socratic academy in Attic Greece, and the teachings of the Buddha and Lao-tzu, all of which occurred at specific times in our recorded history (assuming one accepts their historicity). In the most recent arc of our present cycle, these events of revelation were all spaced at roughly five-hundred-year intervals, and for those who understood the significance of these infusions at the time, the opportunity to maximize their purpose was exceptional. Such was the role and work of the disciples, arhats, and companions of the great lightbearers.
In addition to these greater infusions or revelations, many of which were the genesis of world religions that serve as the bases for traditional cultures, there were (and are) other lesser points of opportunity for the infusion of light into the obscurity of material existence. One such opportunity occurred in New York in 1875, with the founding of the Theosophical Society; another related opportunity occurred several years later in India taking the form of a remarkable correspondence involving a resident British government official and journalist, both events being subsequently described as 'experiments' by their originators, who were facilitating (by virtue of their sensitivity and vision) the opportunity then available because appropriate circumstances had coalesced at a point in the cycle. Roughly a hundred years later, another sizeable infusion of light came in the form of the hundreds of thousands of spiritually oriented youths of the 1960s (in contrast to the more numerous political activists and fun seekers), whose music, art, and practice were immediate expressions of certain principles of the primordial tradition, the religio perennis.
Finally, there is today a new and conspicuously overt expression of the esoteric, whose principal characteristic, while related to that of the 1960s, is even greater—because it has unparalleled breadth and scope across the planet. This new opportunity is the receptivity of the newest generation of our new millennium to teaching of a higher order that is related to, but more than, the dramatic occult powers and divination taught at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and exhibited by young Mr. Potter in both his apprenticeship and his exploits against the malevolent Voldemort.
Though possibly ephemeral, one needs to consider whether the Harry Potter phenomenon may be an 'experiment' of the present age—another opportunity for the infusion of light. The substantial difference between this infusion and its predecessors is an enhanced receptivity for more light by literally millions of children and early teenagers in every corner of the planet who have consumed the books of J. K. Rowling (and the films made from them) with virtually unsurpassed thirst and enthusiasm. Yet this experiment, if indeed it is that, is only half completed at this point. As the next logical step in sequential order, the other and more significant half of the experiment would be to bridge the occultism of Harry Potter's world to the sacred science of higher metaphysics.
The current works of Rowling do not, in fact, teach or otherwise convey in any clear terms the higher principles of the philosophia perennis, but one can conclude that was never the objective of the books. The books convey a wonderful and interesting fictional story of the education and maturing of a young wizard who undergoes the tribulations of learning his art at Hogwarts. To the extent that this was the primary objective of the books, the author has achieved an admirable degree of success. But the books also convey other, secondary objectives, whether by the author's design or not, and they are key for the proper assimilation of esoteric knowledge.
Chief among the secondary objectives is an elucidation of the principle of the pairs of opposites—good and evil, light and darkness, selfishness and sacrifice. It may be said that this principle is common and can be found in abundant supply in the world's great myths, folktales, and fairy tales—and that is certainly true. Furthermore, one may point out that, together with ample presence of the magical and fantastic, this principle also inheres in other classics for the young (in body or heart), such as J. R. R. Tolkien's stories The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and C. S. Lewis's seven-volume Chronicles of Narnia.
However, what distinguishes J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books from these others is the clear, express, and unambiguous notion of the potential for development of the latent powers in human beings—even in Muggles. What is needed for that development is sufficient discipline and determination, set within the context of a nonempirical educational and developmental process that is based on metaphysical laws of nature and the elements. While these latent powers may be on the lower reaches of the vertical axis of higher metaphysical principles and the philosophia perennis, they are nonetheless an integral aspect of that vertical axis.
The understanding or even acceptance of such occult subjects among young readers, by virtue of the author's treatment of them in a sympathetic and gently humorous manner, is nearly always a precondition whose fulfillment may lead to further development along this path. Indeed, it may ultimately lead to understanding the higher suprarational metaphysical principles as a consequence of growth and maturity. In short, Rowling's books illustrate the graphic and undisguised conflict between what is commonly referred to as white magic and black magic, in their own terms. For many, including the world's youth, recognizing this conflict is a necessary realization before undertaking the long and arduous path to liberation from the pairs of opposites. The pairs of opposites are represented by the 'outer man' and the 'inner man,' whose resolution occurs within at the point where these opposites coincide.
One may theorize that Rowling's reference to Cassandra Vablatsky hints at the author's understanding of a need for further and higher education for her readers. That being the case—unless Rowling herself undertakes this higher education in future works, in which she might have the graduate Harry Potter undertake the disciplines and mysteries of meditation and the study of the santana dharma while developing the suprarational faculty of intellection—it may be left to others to seize this opportunity. This, of course, is not to suggest that anyone produce a book under the fraud of a modern pseudepigrapha, but someone intent on maximizing this opportunity may well find a legitimate and suitable bridge to carry these millions of loyal followers of the exploits of Harry Potter to a new and higher metaphysical destination. In particular, associations of people who profess and promulgate the philosophia perennis need to be aware of such opportunities and to maximize them.
The overwhelming success of J. K. Rowling's work, both in print and in film, testifies to the fact that the positive response to her works is enormous, is world-wide, and numbers in the millions of readers and viewers. To state this is not to endorse a purely quantitative standard for the ultimate significance of the Harry Potter phenomenon, for unless the ground prepared by Rowling's books is planted with a commensurably qualitative spiritual influence from the center, and is subsequently nurtured by those willing to cooperate and assist in this endeavor, the phenomenon will have been only an ephemeral entertainment. The possibility of such a planting and nurturing for bringing more light to humanity, and thereby maximizing this cyclic opportunity, should be obvious. A failure to benefit the eager young audience of these books by further education in the first principles of the philosophia perennis that will lead to a higher understanding would be a missed opportunity. Not all such opportunities are taken, however, or even perceived.
For individuals who do perceive them, any effort undertaken toward maximizing these opportunities does nothing less than lend support to the work of certain bodhisattvas and all who actively assist them in their work. For maximizing opportunities inherent in cycles is in large part what that work is, examples being that which was done in 1875 and again nearly 100 years later. Those who undertake and guide this work always remain vigilant for the next such opportunity of the cyclic dynamic to appear and are neither sentimental nor conformist in the expenditure of their energies in taking the fullest advantage of the hour, for they have no energy to waste.
The new and emergent form arising from such an
opportunity will invariably seem unlikely and may at first appear
bizarre or foolish or trivial, but that is because we are comfortable
with what we know and with what is generally acceptable. New seed
sprouts and grows in the decay of the old, each on a corresponding and
coequal but opposite mission. Where the new sprout promises to generate
more light in the obscurity of darkness, in addition to all other
consequences, that light will also serve to unfog the future.
William W. Quinn is a resident of Phoenix, Arizona, where he practices law. He received a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1981. His doctoral dissertation, which dealt with the philosophia perennis and its relation to traditional culture, was published as The Only Tradition by SUNY Press in 1997.