Exploring the crossroads of religion, culture, and science through a Pagan lens

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Newt Scamander, Politics, and the Value of Caring

In “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” J.K. Rowling presents the familiar wizarding world she originated with Harry Potter, but turns it on its head.  Instead of Britain, the film takes place in the United States.  Different laws apply to the witches and wizards of America, a fact which becomes a source of both humor and tension.  Our main characters are not children, but adults.  Instead of spending multiple installments worldbuilding and introducing a magical system, the new series is able to jump us right into a fully fleshed out world where we all know the rules, allowing more focus on storytelling.

But more importantly, our new hero is very different.  Newt Scamander is nothing like the Boy Who Lived.  Where Harry knows from the day he enters Hogwarts that he is marked out as the savior of the wizarding world, Scamander is really nothing more than a dedicated animal lover who seeks only to rescue and preserve the world’s most misunderstood creatures.  He’s a conservationist, not a warrior.

This brilliant article explains it much better than I can.  While Harry was a swashbuckling Gryffindor, focused on courage and great deeds, Newt is a Hufflepuff – a member of the most underappreciated house at Hogwarts.  If the houses are elemental, Harry is a fire and Newt is an Earth.  Harry must focus on strength and justice and the will to fight.  Newt’s goal is to save the earth’s magical creatures, care for them, and educate others about their importance.  He’s much happier digging in the dirt to feed his beloved “beasts” than fighting wand-to-wand with dark wizards.  Hufflepuff’s key word is Loyalty, and Newt is unfailingly loyal to the animals that depend on him (and he’s happy to fight and dark wizards who might happen to threaten them).

Harry exemplifies the classic Hero’s Journey.  Newt’s largest concern is ensuring that his thunderbird gets fed.

Harry Potter. [Source:]

Harry Potter. [Source:]

Newt Scamander [Source: Warner Brothers]

Newt Scamander [Source: Warner Brothers]

The two heroes couldn’t be more different from each other, but in truth they complement each other.  They represent two different ethical ideas from psychological research: The ethic of justice and the ethic of caring.

Psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg was studied the moral development in children.  His method was to give children a problem, known as the Heinz Dilemma, and ask them their reasoning.  In short the Heinz Dilemma is as follows:

In Europe, a woman was near death from cancer.  One drug might save her, a form of radium that a druggist in the same town had recently discovered.  The druggist was charging $2000, ten times what the drug had cost him to make.  The sick woman’s husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money, but he could get together only about half of what it should cost.  He told the druggist that his wife was dying and asked him to sell it cheaper or to let him pay later.  But the druggist said no.  The husband got desperate and broke into the man’s store to steal the drug for his wife.  Should the husband have done that?  Why?

Kohlberg would collect the children’s answers and categorize their reasoning.  In his research, he identified a three-level system of moral development with two sub-stages per level.  The first level focuses on following rules and avoiding punishment.  The second is more about social approval and maintaining order.  The final stage is when a person guides their reasoning based on higher, philosophical ethical principles.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons


It all sounded fine until Carol Gilligan, one of Kohlberg’s students, noticed a trend.  Young girls and women tended to score on the lower levels of the scale more often than boys and men.  Males were more likely to be scored in the upper categories of moral reasoning.  

This did not sit well with Gilligan.  What she realized was that Kohlberg was bringing a masculine bias – a concept referred to in the linked article as “Toxic Masculinity” – to rate his respondents.  Gilligan theorized that men tend to reason through an ethic of justice, while women tend to utilize an ethic of caring.  She developed the Dilemma of the Porcupine and the Moles to test this theory:

It was growing cold, and a porcupine was looking for a home. He found a most desirable cave but saw it was occupied by a family of moles.

“Would you mind if I shared your home for the winter?” the porcupine asked the moles.

The generous moles consented and the porcupine moved in. But the cave was small and every time the moles moved around they were scratched by the porcupine’s sharp quills. The moles endured this discomfort for as long as they could. Then at last they gathered courage to approach their visitor.

“Pray leave,” they said, “and let us have our cave to ourselves once again.”

“Oh no!” said the porcupine. “This place suits me very well.  If you’re not happy, then you should leave!”

As with the Heinz Dilemma, what is important is not the answer, but the reasoning.  Gilligan developed a model of morality that placed self preservation at the bottom, self-sacrifice in the middle, and the principle of nonviolence at the top.  She found that female participants scored higher overall than they did in Kohlberg’s model.


I don’t believe that the two ethical approaches are as clear cut across binary gender lines as it may seem.  Indeed, two men – Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Ghandi – famously exemplified Gilligan’s highest principle of nonviolence.  However, I do see both ethical models as valid.  And, rather than pitting them against each other, I think we should see them as partners.

The world needs its Harry Potters: the young (or young-at-heart) people willing to risk life and limb for justice. Especially now, we need our activists on the front line protesting DAPL, taking to the streets to advocate for equal rights, and taking to social media to light the fire under under everyone else’s collective asses.

We also need our Newt Scamanders.  We need those who stay calm, assess the situation, and select their battles out of concern for those they care for.  We need our Hufflepuffs who are willing to help those in physical and emotional pain, see to the physical needs of our more vocal activists, and to tame the wild spirit of rage that can sometimes get diffused. We need those who process calmly but get the job done.  As Newt Scamander placidly states while he approaches a dangerous capture: “My philosophy is that worrying means you suffer twice.”  

We are entering into a dark time, both in the Wheel of the Year and in American politics.  Dark times are painful, but they can lead to growth.  Dr. King intentionally led his followers into painful situations to stimulate change.  The discomfort of dark times can stimulate growth and manifest will, but it takes the Hufflepuffs caring for the wounded and as much as the Gryffindors on the front line.

It was Albus Dumbledore, the wisest Harry Potter character of all, who said that Love was the most powerful force in the world.  Love inspires frontline activism as much as nurturing of those who fight and those who fall.  In dark times, each person needs to choose where to focus their love.  Justice is vital, but so is Caring. When the future looked bleak, all of Hogwarts, even the Hufflepuffs, had to come together to defeat Voldemort’s fascist coup.


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Virtues of the Goddess: Beauty

Virtues of the Goddess is a series on the eight virtues mentioned in the Charge of the Goddess and their relationship to the sabbats of the Wheel of the Year.  This is Part 2: Beauty.

I’ve never seen a purple crocus shyly peeking its fragile bud through virgin snow.  Where I live, he have colorful roses into January and the citrus trees are heavily laden with fruit, coloring our land in shades of lemon yellow, lime green, and orange, well, orange.  Fresh snow will never make it onto my altar.  The winter, with its sabbat of Imbolc, is a hard season to attune to here in California.

Yet, as a native southern Californian and a Witch, I can feel it in the land.  It’s subtle, and most people from other parts of the country would never notice it, but there are little signs of winter even here in the LA Basin.  The deciduous trees have finally all lost their green.  They stand dry and impassive.  The darkness arrives early.  Not as early as it did last month, but without the beautiful light displays decorating the neighborhoods, it feels even darker than before the solstice.

There are signs, if you know where to look.  While this is the time when colder parts of the country long for a return to warmth, we long for the return of the trees, the roses, our famous swallows, and the bees.  Our drought-stricken land seems wasted and dead just as those in the east are digging themselves from under a mountain of blizzard-induced snow.  The beauty of life is hibernating all around, but is seems far away.  We all yearn for that crocus or tulip, that drop of rain, that something that tells us there will be beauty again.

It’s not just in the land.  It’s in our culture as well.  One look at anything in the news these days is enough to make the whole world seem pretty ugly and drought-stricken.  Our politics are ugly, to the point where xenophobia and mindless insults carry the day with large swaths of voters.  Every day we hear of another terrorist shooting or innocent black child murdered.   Violence and fear seem to surround us, closing in like a Death Star trash compactor.

But, just like this Imbolc season is subtle in California, there is beauty if you know where to look.  So many of us were left bereft at some point this month as wonderful artists seem to have passed from this earth in droves.  David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Glenn Frey, the list goes on.  Their passing left the world poorer, but their work left it richer.  Beautiful reactions from fans expressed how each of these artists had touched their lives began to circulate around social media almost immediately after each passing.


I was never really a Bowie or Eagles fan.  Yet, the tributes posted by fans were incredibly touching.  They help us remember just how deeply the beauty one artist makes can touch the hearts of others and how each of us finds beauty in something different.  I don’t need to know an ounce of Bowie’s music or a single word to “Hotel California” to appreciate how much these musicians meant to the fans who loved them.

Rickman is a different story.  I had been watching his career since Die Hard.  I’m a huge Harry Potter fan.  I wrote my master’s thesis on Harry Potter.  With Rickman’s crossing, I felt what Bowie fans must have felt.  I felt the shock and pain of loss, but I also better appreciated the beauty he left in my life and in the lives of his many fans.


In the midst of anti-Muslim fervor last month, Larycia Hawkins, a political science professor at the evangelical Wheaton College, began wearing hijab in solidarity with those who follow Islam.  She stood up for them, stating on social media that both Christians and Muslims worship the same god.  This got her suspended.


Right in the middle of what has been a nadir of relations between Muslims and non-Muslim Americans, Hawkins took a stand on the side of love – and paid the price. There’s beauty there.  Many students and religious leaders came out to support her.  More beauty.  Sometimes it takes the worst to highlight the best.

There are other examples of Muslims protecting Christians from harm and vice-versa.  Groups of bikers ride out en masse to protect funerals from the venomous hatred of the Westboro Baptist Church.   I’m not saying we should ignore our very real problems an look only at the pretty and shiny things, just that beauty inspires us to go on in a world that seems full of its opposite.  These acts of courage are beautiful.  Art is beautiful.  Tribute to the fallen is beautiful.

The world really does seem horrendous sometimes.  Especially lately.  Yet, underneath the snow (from what I understand) there are beautiful flowers waiting to break through the ice.  Here in California, small green buds will appear on the trees within a month.  Light creates shadow, and beauty can stand out against the blanket of nastiness that seems to cover our world.   It can be hard to find, but it is still there if you know where to look.

Other posts in this series: