Belief: Dudley Demented (Book 5, Chapter 1)

We’re on Book 5!

In this episode, Vanessa and Casper read the chapter through the theme of “Belief.” Casper shares a story related to the theme about a horrible experience he had in a haunted house at nine years old. He discusses that all too familiar feeling of logically knowing something isn’t real, but believing it is.

The conversation moves to focus on the differences between knowing and believing, and the complexities that belief presents. Belief is based on facts, Vanessa points out, but also is sustained in the absence of facts. Part of belief is a kind of faith and trust. They point out an instance in the chapter where two characters come to opposite conclusions faced with the same evidence.


The pair analyzes a moment where Dudley and Harry’s relationship starts to change for the first time. They discuss the differences in Dudley and Harry that lead them to react differently faced with a dementor.

Both Vanessa and Casper bring their A-game to the 30-second recap and they try out a spiritual practice that is new to the podcast: Marginalia. They each hand each other their books, having written notes in the margins and treat each other’s notes as sacred.

Vanessa and a listener offer blessings for Mrs. Figg. They point out that the people society dismisses can end up being bad-ass spies. Very true.  



Special Edition: Owl Post with Professor Stephanie Paulsell

For this Special Edition: Owl Post, Vanessa is joined by Stephanie Paulsell to respond to five voicemails sent in by the podcast’s wonderful listeners. As the intern, the daughter of Stephanie Paulsell, and a devotee of HPST, this writer affirms that it is nearly impossible to pick five out of all the wonderful submissions we get.


The voicemails Vanessa and Stephanie discuss get at some hugely important issues: relics and honoring our bodies, the stories we tell ourselves to feel safe, the difficulty of knowing how to support someone in pain, and the reminder that even the wizarding world is imperfect.

The episode is filled with wisdom, from both listeners and hosts. One listener points out that the rebirth of Voldemort is kind of like an anti-communion where everything is coerced. Another listener honors an unnamed but important character. In response to one voicemail, Stephanie says, “We ask survivors of trauma to not only do the work they need to do to get through what’s happened but to do the emotional work of caring for those around them.” Another listener remembers Vanessa’s powerful words: “Love is a radical act.”

Listen now for more pearls of wisdom!


Wrap-Up: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

In this Book 4 Wrap-Up, Casper and Vanessa discuss the Goblet of Fire’s role within the series. Casper notes that the book is a kind of pivot point between the first three and last three, in which we get a “sense of what’s at stake for the rest of the story.” Vanessa observes that the novel is incredibly political, both in the plot and the development of Harry. The hosts interrogate Harry’s identity and understanding of self in this novel and observe the ways in which we see him change.


The pair argues that, from positions of privilege,  it is easy to forget that politics and war are forced on the bodies of others and outline the ways in which Harry Potter is a reminder and expression of those wounds and identities.  

In this episode, you’ll find out who won the season’s 30-second recaps and you’ll hear both Casper and Vanessa give a 30 second recap for the entire novel. Casper even does it in a spectacular foreign accent.

They wrap up with a final spiritual practice--florilegia--and offer blessings for two characters.


Love: The Beginning (Book 4, Chapter 37)

The live show from London is up! Get ready for some classic Casper-Vanessa banter, a “gladiator-style” 30 second recap, and (grab your tissues) a heartwarming story about love from the one and only Stephanie Paulsell.

Vanessa begins the show by telling the audience about “the most evil thing [she has] ever done.” You definitely don’t want to miss this story--or Casper's amazing reaction. Vanessa looks critically at this story and explains how there was a more loving way for everyone involved to address each other. She advocates for us to be aware of everything surrounding us and our lives when we talk to one another in order to be more compassionate. “If we are going to be loving to each other,” she says, “we have to observe which structures are at play that try to stop us from being loving.”

Get ready for an epic battle. Casper and Vanessa duke it out during the 30-second recap and one comes out with the crown.

Then, the pair look at how Dumbledore addresses the student body after Cedric’s death. He says that in these “dark and difficult times,” we all have to make a choice between “what is right and what is easy.” Is this a loving speech? Vanessa and Casper ask. Is Dumbledore doing what is right or what is easy?

Vaness and Casper then turn to their spiritual practice of the week--Pardes. Pardes means “orchard,” Vanessa says. Like in an orchard, you can reach up and grab any fruit (or in this case, piece of text), and it will inevitably be juicy. They pick one word and trace it through the book, finding new meaning in the text and seeing it in new ways. And, if you didn’t already know, you’ll find out which House Casper is a part of. We also get a peek into the amazing visual make-up of Vanessa’s brain (hint: puppies).

Then, Stephanie Paulsell tells a story about falling in love with her husband. The person writing this blog post is their daughter, so she happens to think that both Stephanie Paulsell and her husband are pretty great. She also did not know that prior to walking down the aisle, the first thing her mother thought of was death. “I realized I’m going to die one day,” Stephanie says, that in promising to spend every day until death with this other person, death is inevitably down the pike. This writer’s mother wowed with her wisdom, saying that love, like spiritual practices, “confers a vision...of the world and of yourself.” Getting close to the things you love, whether people or books, “cracks things open.”

Through their second spiritual practice, Florilegia, Casper and Vanessa reassemble pieces from the chapter. You’ll definitely see it in a new way.


Disillusionment: The Parting of the Ways (Book 4, Chapter 36)

Casper begins the episode by telling a story about his experience with disillusionment and the loss of belief in a leader. He relates his story to the character of Fudge, who willingly allows people to suffer in order to preserve his own career. Harry, like Casper, thought well of this leader in the past, but discovers that what he had admired was simply showmanship.

What do we do in the face of disillusionment? Vanessa and Casper ask. We are faced with a whole set of new information and have to readjust. We will also inevitably react in our own ways. Vanessa talks about her reaction after the re-election of Bush and the election of Trump. It is natural both to need time to rest and recover and to be spurred to action, she points out. Harry, for example, needs time to recuperate in the face of disillusionment.

How can we best support those that have been disillusioned? Casper and Vanessa point out several people in Harry’s life that provide a ministerial, non-anxious presence and dedicate themselves to taking care of him. They go on to have an exciting debate that you won’t want to miss!

Then the pair follows in the footsteps of St. Ignatius of Loyola and imagines themselves into the text. This leads to an exciting outcome (and the question: Can we rewrite our stories?) and proves that it is impossible to choose which is the best spiritual practice; they are all amazing.

Betrayal: Veritaserum (Book 4, Chapter 35)

We open the episode with a story that brings us back to 7th grade and the dreaded PSATs. Vanessa recalls being the target of a Means Girls–style 3-way call and the feelings of betrayal that accompanied it. She points out that betrayal by another person can also reveal a betrayal of self. How do we feel when we don’t trust our friends or our own selves?

Vanessa and Casper aptly recap this climactic moment in the book and point out that betrayal permeates every part of this chapter. They note that Barty Crouch Jr. betrays Voldemort through a kind of ecstasy, “drunk on his own egotism.” Vanessa relates this to the deeply human experience of being betrayed by our own joy, like when we drink too much at a party and start dancing embarrassingly. “When you have a fear of betrayal,” she points out, “you can never have real intimacy.”

This point relates to the question posed during this week’s spiritual practice, Havruta. The answer reveals something distasteful about Harry and leads Casper and Vanessa to argue for the importance of not doubting the wisdom and importance of the people who surround us.

Like betrayal is so present in this part of the book (the word is even used in this chapter), it can also feel very present in our lives. It’s based entirely in relationality, so it can be easier to isolate ourselves. We want to take the risk of opening ourselves up to each other and hope you will join us in doing so.

If you’re going to be at Leaky Con, come see Vanessa and Ariana! More info here:

Listen to this week's episode here

Grief: Priori Incantatem (Book 4, Chapter 34)

This week, Casper and Vanessa are joined by Matt Potts, Assistant Professor at the Harvard Divinity School. He tells a story about a grief he has lived with and what he has learned. He argues that grief doesn’t go away; rather, it is a posture. He provides advice for those of us dealing with grief and encourages us to be present to one another.

Vanessa and Casper recap this eventful chapter. Don’t forget to head to the Harry potter and the Sacred Text instagram to see Vanessa and Casper give their 30-second recaps!

The pair compare Harry’s grief to our own; like in Harry’s case, grief often comes in inopportune moments, but is an opportunity to bring people together.

Voldemort’s relationship with grief, on the other hand, is lacking in understanding. When the people that he killed appear as ghosts to help Harry, Voldemort, never having grieved them, seems to drown in it. He does, however, provide an interesting bit of wisdom--check out the episode to find out what it is!

To listen to this week's episode, click here!

Necessity: The Death Eaters (Book 4, Chapter 33)

The episode opens with a story from Casper that overwhelms Vanessa with its cuteness. The story also gets to the heart of the question of necessity. Casper learned in a moment of feeling very out of place that we all have different needs and different understandings of necessity.

With their wits well about them, Casper and Vanessa recap the episode in a swift 30 seconds.

Reading this chapter through the theme of necessity, Vanessa points out, helps us get into Voldemort’s mindset. This chapter reveals a lot about Voldemort--things that, in many ways, we relate to. We relate to his desires, Casper and Vanessa point out, but it is methodology that sets us apart from Voldemort. We also want to live, to be remembered, to be significant in history, but Voldemort uses violence to realize those desires. Vanessa and Casper relate this idea to new changes that are rapidly occurring across the world.

This chapter shapes our understanding of Voldemort’s body, Casper points out. Is it human? Not human? A little of both, Casper explains. Voldemort is ecstatic to have this body back, to have been reborn/reshaped, and to have defeated death.

He says, “I do not forgive. I do not forget.” Vanessa relates this line to our own cultural understanding of forgiveness and punishment and invites us to push back on our instinct to uphold those ideas.

Finally, in this week’s spiritual practice of Havruta, Vanessa asks the question, “Why do we see survival as heroic,” and with Casper, interrogates our understanding of heroism.

Listen to this week's episode here


Inspiration: The Madness of Mr. Crouch - with John Green (Book 4, Chapter 28)

This week, Casper and Vanessa are joined by the one and only John Green for an exciting conversation on inspiration and creativity! They learn that John Green almost went to Divinity School because he cared about facilitating interreligious dialogue. John and Vanessa bonded over their shared experience of fainting the first day on the job as chaplains. 

The three take part in a conversation about inspiration. John tells us that he doesn’t get inspiration from “thunderclap moments,” but rather stiches together “tiny ideas.” Vanessa looks at this thought through the lens of spiritual practice. There should be a “ritual of honoring those moments,” she says. Then we should have the “discipline” to sit down and bring those pieces together. 

After Casper, Vanessa, and John all give excellent 30 second recaps that provide us with key moments in the chapter, they relate the Imperius curse to our everyday lives and capacity for creativity. 

Like Barty Crouch, we often live our lives as through we were under the Imperius curse; however, we have moments of clarity and inspiration. It’s our job to follow through on these moments, Vanessa says. John advocates for us to get past the mundane, everyday habits that we get into and to seek out moments of inspiration. 

Breaking out of the mundane can be scary and isolating, the hosts point out. We can feel exposed, Casper says, because “the fundamental rules of the world don’t apply.” John agrees, adding, “There’s a mortification that accompanies trying to make anything”—we fear that it will be considered cheesy or embarrassing. Vanessa adds that such isolation can be an expression of the desire to connect. “Hermione’s desire is to connect with the house elves and to have a more integrated society,” she points out. “She is willing to remain in isolation for the hope of connection.”

Creativity is complicated, the three point out. There are sacrifices we have to make when it comes to creativity; we run the risk of isolating ourselves from others. Creativity isn’t simple. It emerges strongest in the most difficult times of our lives. And it is ultimately, a reminder of our humanity.

This week’s spiritual practices is Lectio Divina. John randomly chooses this sentence: “The rest of the class was very eager to leave; Moody had given them such a rigorous test of hex deflection that many of them were nursing small injuries.” He points out that we carry within ourselves the potential to inflict significant harm and tremendous love.

The group finishes off the episode with blessings; Casper provides one for Victor Krum, Vanessa for Winky, and John for Harry Potter. 

To listen to this week's episode, click here!

Corruption: Padfoot Returns (Book 4, Chapter 27)

Can corruption be a good thing? Are there parts of us that respect—or even desire—corruption? When do we normalize corruption and when do we condemn it? Vanessa and Casper address these questions in this week’s episode. 

As a historical figure,  Samuel Pepys is a point of contention for historians, Casper explains. The former member of Parliament was known both for his patronage and his acceptance of favors from colleagues and friends. So, it’s difficult to construct a succinct label to describe him. Was he a patron? Was he corrupt?

Vanessa raises the point that Harry himself is corrupt; he is willing to steal, and in this chapter, he gaslights Snape. We deeply respect Harry for traits like this that shape his character. Percy, on the other hand, is a hugely dislikable character, Vanessa points out. We tend not to respect this character that operates within the rules. “Isn’t corruption a way to demonstrate some kind of humanity?” she asks.

The hosts ask when we don't want people to operate within set boundaries, when our respect for someone is bolstered by their corruption. The Crouches, for example, visit their son in prison because they have political connections. This corruption clearly demonstrates their humanity. Casper and Vanessa point out that corruption and lying can look like different things. Hermione smiling sarcastically at her Slytherin bullies is both a kind of lying and an expression of strength.

They then engage in Lectio Divina for their spiritual practice of the week and interrogate this quote: “The dungeon rang with Slytherin laughter and an unpleasant smile curled Snape’s thin mouth.” They make allegorical connections to things like the Cheshire Cat and Nagini in Book 7 and address the complexity of laughter: it can be a positive, joyful thing, but also terrifying if you’re unsure if someone is laughing at you.

They finish up the episode with blessings for Pansy Parkinson and Karkaroff.

You can listen to this week's episode here.