Movie Magic and Unconscious Learning
Berit Kjos – 2001
A revealing scene in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone shows Harry and his friends rushing into the night to find the magical stone supposedly made by a medieval alchemist. Guarded by a monstrous three-headed dog in a forbidden corridor at Hogwarts Schools for Witchcraft and Wizardry, this legendary “philosopher’s stone” could grant eternal life — something the disembodied villain Voldemort desperately needs. But who would reach it first, the evil wizard or Harry, Ron and Hermione?
Their friend Neville senses danger and warns the threesome that this is not a good time to break more rules. So Harry lies to his friend and Hermione lifts her wand and casts a spell on him. Neville turns stiff as a board and falls flat on the floor. Our three heroes rush away — and the audience bursts into laughter.
Why the laughter? Neville was a “good” guy. He was trying to be helpful. But never mind traditional kindness. The crowd has been mesmerized by the plot and is, for the moment, oblivious to home-taught values. The attentive gathering has learned to flow with the brilliant story which makes Ms Rowling’s untraditional values seem right and Christian caution seem wrong. The audience can feel their heroes’ need and sense of urgency, so their minds justify the spell as well as the unkind tactics and share a communal relief for a conflict resolved.
The communal part is important. Togetherness strengthens the illusion of reality. Harry Potter fans — like other special interests groups — share a new language with terms and meanings that they validate and cheer in each other. The fact that the new language makes little sense to mugglish parents and disinterested peers only strengthens their bond. Together, they explore and affirm the values defined by the story.
This exploration has been brought into classrooms across the country. Many schools that bussed their students to movie theatres on opening day (November 16) now use Harry Potter curricula to continue the informal dialogue led by trained teacher-facilitators. Keep in mind, crowds can easily be manipulated to accept and do what most individuals would not. Like a flock of sheep, they pursue the vision of personal empowerment — not necessarily into occult experimentation but into an acceptance of a pagan world view that turns God’s values upside down. [Isaiah 5:20]
For the fun edutainment frees them from the moral and factual guidelines which usually filters incoming information. It offers a mind-changing distraction from rational thinking and plants contrary philosophies into the unguarded mind. When the film ends, the images will remain in the viewer’s memory, ready to influence future moral choices. Few children or adults notice the change.
This involuntary and unconscious process is part of a century-old plan for change. Professor Raymond Houghton described the vision in a book titled, “To Nurture Humaneness,” published in 1970 by the ASCD, the curriculum arm of the National Education Association. He wrote,
“…absolute behavior control is imminent…. The critical point of behavior control, in effect, is sneaking up on mankind without his self-conscious realization that a crisis is at hand. Man will… never self-consciously know that it has happened.” 
Hard to believe? Then consider the research compiled by Dr. Craig E. Abrahamson, Assistant Professor of Social Work at James Madison University. He scorns the old factual or didactic learning and calls for the feeling-based, image-rich unconscious learning so popular among today’s educational change agents.
Storytelling is vital to this process, and few forms of communication transmit stories into the minds more effectively than movies — especially when based on myths created by master storytellers such as J. K. Rowling. Such movies create persuasive illusions (and delusions) through imagined experiences that stir strong feelings. As Harvard Professor Chris Dede, a global leader the development of education technology programs, writes, “Sensory immersion helps learners grasp reality through illusion.“
No wonder educators delight in the Harry Potter movie. Filling and driving the imagination, it provides the right kind of “illusion.” It fits the planned “reality” that both US and UNESCO educators have been seeking for half a century — one that would help establish new values, new beliefs, new lifestyles and new ways of thinking.
But our God doesn’t change. While federal “behavioral laboratories” explore psycho-social manipulation and seductive storytelling in order to mold global citizen, God uses His unchanging truth to set men free. “If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples,” said Jesus. “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32)
Children whose daydreams soar into Rowling’s supernatural realm of flying broomsticks, empowering spells, golden snitches and everlasting ghosts may feel free — free from the old constraints and authorities, free from natural and spiritual laws. Few see the danger behind this new-found “freedom.” They forget that the author’s script, not their own imagination, guides their minds and defines their values.
God knows all that. Our Creator understands human nature far better than the most sophisticated psychologist. That’s why “Jesus did not commit Himself to them [the masses that flocked to Him]…. He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.” John 2:23-25.
Armed with His truth and promises, we would do well to look more closely at today’s battle for the minds of our children.
Hypnotic trance through story telling. “The best methodology for education is not simply the use of didactic instruction,” explains Dr. Abrahamson in his report, Storytelling as a Pedagogical Tool in Higher Education (posted on the Encyclopedia Britannica website), “for it needs to be an awakening and moving experience in order for the content to have meaning for the learner.” He continues:
“…inspiration, encouragement, satisfaction, and fascination must be integrated with information in order to provide an education that has meaning to the learner and will have true, lasting effects on that person’s life and the society in which he or she interacts. What a person usually remembers the longest is information that has an emotional impact.” Emphasis added
The emotional impact of Rowling’s storytelling has circled the planet like a giant tsunami wave, and social changes have followed in its wake. Abrahamson’s research may show the transforming power of storytelling within a classroom setting, but his analysis can be applied to the entire field of edutainment — especially to the Harry Potter phenomenon and its mind-changing movie.
In a section titled, “Implementation of Hypnotic Trance in Storytelling,” Dr. Abrahamson shows how captivating stories can suspend rational thinking and open the door of the mind to a new view of reality:
“…People remember what happens to them, and they tell other people what they remember. It is this sharing that can enhance an understanding of what occurred, both to the teller, as well as to the listener. Often, when we are either telling or listening to a story, our habitual mental sets, common everyday frames of reference, and belief systems are more or less interrupted and suspended for a moment or two.
“Milton H. Erickson defined hypnotic trance as the evocation and utilization of unconscious learning. He believed that people are most open to learning in this state due to the fact that one’susual frames of reference and beliefs are temporarily altered so one can be receptive to concepts and information that may be somewhat different from what already has been assimilatedinto his or her cognitive and emotional frames of reference….” Emphasis added
There are many ways to lead young and old subjects into “the state of receptivity that is called hypnotic trance.” Dr. Abrahamson touts a “five-stage paradigm of the dynamics of trance induction and suggestion through storytelling:”
Stage 1. “Fixation of Attention.” During this stage, the audience is so caught up in the story that the real world is forgotten. That may sound good to those who need a break from daily tensions. But this mental distraction is followed by an intrusive form of mental manipulation. While diverting attention away from facts and truths, the movie bombards the audience with captivating images, virtual experiences and vivid sensations that clash with home-taught values.
The movie shows Harry communicating with a powerful snake, magically removing the glass barrier to its freedom, walking through a brick wall at Platform 9 3/4, exploring occult shops, selecting his magic wand…. These scenes may all seem “normal” in the context of Ms Rowling’s alternative reality. They also fit the need for suspense and surprises that capture a viewer’s attention, block rational thinking and prepare the mind for a trance-forming focus. Dr. Abrahamson summarized it well: “…if the stage is successful, consciousness has been distracted.”
But God warns us to “be on guard” and “keep alert.” He tells us to “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Naturally, these warnings don’t “win friends and influence people” these days. Potter fans may accuse Christians of spoiling their fun, but God knows our weaknesses. Because He loves us, He gave us His Word to guard us against deception.
Stage 2. “De-potentiating [destroying the potency of] Habitual Frameworks and Belief Systems.” This second stage weakens the influence of traditional beliefs and habits. Harry Potter does it well. The first stage has already freed the mind from the old boundaries. Now, as the movie screen sends a fast-moving stream of occult ideas and supernatural images, the mind begins to switch from the old mental framework or filter based on God’s Word to a pagan perspective. Viewers who have identified with the aspiring wizard are learning see the world through his eyes, values and feelings.
And what do they see? Scenes such as the occult shops in Diagon Alley may look innocent compared to the scary forest scene showing Voldemort’s desperate need for Unicorn’s blood, but they carry a potent message. In contrast to three-headed dogs and Nearly Headless Nick, they can be reproduced in the real world. Consider these words remembered by Potter fans who read the first book:
“They bought Harry’s school books in a shop called Flourish and Blotts where the shelves were stacked to the ceiling with books… Even Dudley, who never reads anything, would have been wild to get his hands on some of these. Hagrid almost had to drag Harry away from Curses and Countercurses (Bewitch Your Friends and Befuddle Your Enemies with the Latest Revenges….) ‘I was trying to find out how to curse Dudley’ [said Harry]” Emphasis added
Spells and curses have always been used to oppress people in the world’s pagan cultures. In parts of Africa, Asia and South America, where primitive shamanism and witchcraft continued while the West embraced Christian values, their victims still face the terrifying consequences. In today’s post-modern world, the same ancient practices have been revived and redefined. Marketed as empowering white magic that harms no one, they have taken the West by storm.
For example, The Girls’ Guide to Spells, one of many books that break down barriers to the occult world of capricious spirits, “is an easy, fun guide to casting positive spells” and tapping “into the natural energy forces of Mother Nature.” Decorated with pentagrams and the ubiquitous spiral, it shows how to create “your own magic wand” and make “magic happen in our life.”
“The Lord of the Rings Oracle,” another tempting key to the occult, links Tolkien’s mythical world to other pagan practices idealized in today’s world of wizardry. It, too, trains the beginner in magic and divination.
Skeptical students can brush up on the history of pagan practices by reading the Sorcerer’s Companion: A Guide to the Magical World of Harry Potter (See photo above). It ties Harry’s occult skills and formulas to the real world of practical occultism. But please don’t buy it. Just remember that many Potter fans have already studied its testimonies to occult realities and now crave more of the same. One newspaper showed a girl clutching it in her arms as she left the movie theater on opening day.
Most of those children have closed their minds to Biblical truth. They may still profess faith in God, but if they really knew Him, they would sense the discomfort of cognitive dissonance (mental and/or moral confusion). This uneasiness occurs whenever a person is drawn to values that clash with their biblical understanding of right and wrong. Dr. Abrahamson explains:
“As the student is consciously pulled into the story that the instructor is sharing, latent patterns of association and sensory-perceptional experience have an opportunity to assert themselves in a manner that can initiate the altered state of consciousness that has been described as trance or hypnosis.
“There are many means of de-potentiating frames of reference. Any experience of shock or surprise momentarily will fixate attention and interrupt the previous pattern of association. Any experience of the unrealistic, the unusual, or the fantastic provides an opportunity for altered modes of apprehension. Aspects in a story that create confusion, doubt, dissociation, and disequilibrium are all means of de-potentiating students’ learned limitations so that they may become open and available for new means of experiencing and learning, which are the essence of conversational (therapeutic) trance.”
One of those moments of shock and surprise might happen when Harry shops for his magic wand — a “wand that chooses the wizard.” The wand that chooses Harry makes itself known by sending warmth into his hand and sparks into the air. Watching with much excitement, the wizardly owner of the wand shop tells Harry that “the phoenix whose tail feather is in your wand, gave another feather — just one other. It is very curious indeed that you be destined for this wand when its brother… gave you that scar.”
In other words, Harry and the evil Lord Voldemort would share the same magic charm for channeling and manipulating the supernatural force. Yet, Voldemort, like Darth Vader, had chosen the dark side of the force. Might Harry do the same?
God tells us that the good and evil cannot come from the same source. “Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening?” asks James [3:10-11] The obvious answer is no. To make sure we know the difference and see both sides from God’s perspective, He has given us an armor to wear in every spiritual battle. The first part is the living and unchanging Truth which gives us wisdom to discern between good and evil. But it takes the whole Armor of God to keep us safely hidden in Jesus in the midst of a world that despises His ways:
“Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth….” Ephesians 6:10-12
3. “Unconscious Search.” When an exciting story has distracted the Potter fan from actual reality and bombarded him or her with contrary suggestions and feelings, the subconscious mind seeks a way to reconcile the conflict between the old and the new values. This quest for resolution involves the dialectic (consensus) process. Trained by schools to to seek “common ground” and conform beliefs to the group consensus, the student simply relieves the tension through moral compromise — a basic element of the “new way of thinking.“
“When these processes occur, they initiate an unconscious search for a new solution to a problem or seek out a new altering experience…. With the employment of storytelling as a trance-inducement mechanism in the manner in which this has been discussed, the opportunity is afforded for the student to creatively reorganize information and concepts to allow for the assimilation of new knowledge and concepts which can enhance the learning experience.”
The “new knowledge” to be assimilated includes all the pagan practices forbidden by God but idealized in the Harry Potter books and movie. One of the simplest justifications for continued loyalty to Harry is simply to rationalize that Harry and his side of the magical force are good, while Voldemort and his side are evil. You saw this philosophy in the previous stage. It permeates New Age and neopagan spirituality: one universal force – two different expressions. This conclusion matches Eastern dualism and the yin yang, which symbolizes the quest for harmony between opposing forces such as good and evil, light and dark, male and female….
But God tells us that good and evil cannot mix. “What fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness?” He asks. “And what communion has light with darkness? …come out from among them and be separate,” says the Lord. “Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.” 2 Cor 6:12-18
4. Unconscious Process: The Potter fan and less committed viewers reach this stage when they have set aside their former convictions, opened their minds to contrary beliefs, resolved the conflict between opposite values, and accepted the subtle suggestions offered by the story and its context:
“In essence, an indirect suggestion within the framework of storytelling initiates an unconscious search and facilitates unconscious processes within students, and they often find themselves open to ideas and concepts that in the past appeared closed. …The indirect forms of suggestion… help students bypass their learned limitations….”
Through storytelling, these “indirect suggestions” prompt children to apply the story’s subtle new meanings to old facts, symbols and truths. This helps explain why many Potter fans profess faith in God yet twist the character of God into a deity compatible with their favorite story and their personal lusts.
“What right have you to declare My statutes,” asks God, “… seeing you hate instruction and cast My words behind you? …You thought that I was altogether like you, but I will rebuke you….” Psalm 50:16-21
5. The Hypnotic Response: This natural outcome leaves viewers with new images and suggestions imprinted in their collective memory. An exchange took place in their minds while their attention was focused on the story and action.
“Because it is mediated primarily by unconscious processes within the student, the hypnotic response appears to occur automatically or autonomously, much in the same fashion as when a person is sitting in his or her car at a red stop light and isn’t aware when the light turns green until the person in the car behind him or her blows the horn. …
“Many people look at the hypnotic trance as an occurrence that only happens in the company of an hypnotherapist, and when it does happen, the individual loses all control while under the control of the therapist. However, most individuals typically experience a mild sense of pleasant surprise when they find themselves responding in this automatic and involuntary manner. Contrary to public misconceptions, the hypnotized person remains the same person, only his or her perceptions for the moment are altered by the trance state.”
In the education arena, the goal of the process is to socialize students with the new values fit for the global community. The planned change is incremental and permanent, not temporary. It is part of UNESCO’s program for lifelong learning and matches the goals and ideology of Hollywood producers.
Teachers and principals were not content to simply to bus their students to the Harry Potter movie on opening day. Their follow-up includes Harry Potter curriculla that prompts students to pursue their occult interests in classrooms across the country. There, trained facilitator-teachers can guide the process toward a fitting consensus. Even Christian students who have not conformed their values to the mystical world of Hogwarts must participate in this manipulative dialogue or face ridicule and unforgiving assessments (be labeled “uncooperative” and “intolerant”). While Hogwarts head master honored Harry whether he obeyed the rules or not, this new world will not reward Christian students for their uncompromising stand.
But God will! He tells us “Blessed are you when men hate you… exclude you… revile you, and cast out your name as evil for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven.” [Luke 6:22-23] And when the world mocks and vilifies us, He will keep us close, shield us in His armor and remind us that –
“…in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:32-39
1.Paul A. Pilger and Paul Dobesh, “Issues in Interactive Communication: The Impact of the New Technologies of Society,” 1996. We found this article at the Florida State University website, but its link to the specific page link is now broken: http://www.fsu.edu/~ic-prog/issuesbook/chapter17.html
3.Holland Cotter, “Films that keep Asking, Is it Fact or Fiction?” New York Times, 1-19-01.
5.The Transformation of Distance Education to Distributed Learning. While this and other papers by Professor Chris Dede focuses on education technology, it emphasizes the value of sensory immersion into synthetic environments as a tool to mold minds by instilling a programmed perception of “reality.” http://www.gsu.edu/~wwwitr/docs/distlearn/index.html