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Lucifer Ascending: The Occult in Folklore and Popular Culture
Lucifer Ascending: The Occult in Folklore and Popular Culture
Bill Ellis
University Press of Kentucky, 2004
288 pp., $40.00

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From Angels to Aliens: Teenagers, the Media, and the Supernatural
From Angels to Aliens: Teenagers, the Media, and the Supernatural
Lynn Schofield Clark
Oxford University Press, 2003
304 pp., $45.00

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by Agnieszka Tennant


The Disenchanters

It's easy to laud magic when you don't believe in it.

Three years ago, an alarmist email chain letter heralded a news story headlined "Harry Potter Books Spark Rise in Satanism." To the dismay of some evangelicals, the article reported that J.K. Rowling's bestsellers had seduced millions of children to abandon the Bible for books of magic. But the email failed to mention one thing. The article was a spoof published in the satirical paper The Onion.

Still, the hoax underscored an existing paranoia. We all know Christians who'd go ballistic at the sight of their children reading Harry Potter, watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, doing card tricks, wearing goth, or invoking spirits at a slumber party.

If only these well-meaning guardians of young people's souls understood that—barring rare exceptions—magic is good! It grants refuge to the oppressed. It empowers the powerless. It legitimates the marginalized. It provides a rite of passage to the uninitiated. It subverts repressive hegemonies.

Here's an irony: For all their outrage, the magic-phobic right-wingers will be surprised to learn that they have actually fertilized the soil in which the supernatural flourishes. Who knew? Were it not for Neil Anderson's Bondage Breaker or the demonization of Harry Potter on Christian radio talkshows, the spirit world wouldn't be half as alluring. But, again, that's okay: magic is healthy and useful. Those who castigate it are actually doing others a favor by drawing attention to it.

Yeah, right. Only if you buy the logic of two disenchanting tomes.

First is Lucifer Ascending: The Occult in Folklore and Popular Culture by Bill Ellis, folklorist and associate professor of English and American Studies at Penn State Hazleton. In his previous book, Raising the Devil: Satanism, New Religions, and the Media, Ellis argued that when religious institutions embark on metaphorical witch hunts, they can end up doing more harm than the modern equivalents of witchcraft they're ostracizing.1 Now, in Lucifer, he sifts through the ways in which people have ...

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