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:

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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!

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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.

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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. 

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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.