Lucifer Ascending

Lucifer Ascending: The Occult in Folklore and Popular Culture

Bill Ellis
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130j88k
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  • Book Info
    Lucifer Ascending
    Book Description:

    Despite their centuries-old history and traditions, witchcraft and magic are still very much a part of modern Anglo-American culture. InLucifer Ascending, Bill Ellis looks at modern practices that are universally defined as "occult," from commonplace habits such as carrying a rabbit's foot for good luck or using a Ouija board, to more esoteric traditions, such as the use of spell books. In particular, Ellis shows how the occult has been a common element in youth culture for hundreds of years.

    Using materials from little known publications and archives,Lucifer Ascendingdetails the true social function of individuals' dabbling with the occult. In his survey of what Ellis terms "vernacular occultism," the author is poised on a middle ground between a skeptical point of view that defines belief in witchcraft and Satan as irrational and an interpretation of witchcraft as an underground religion opposing Christianity.Lucifer Ascendingexamines the occult not as an alternative to religion but rather as a means for ordinary people to participate directly in the mythic realm.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5644-6
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Chapter One Wizards vs. Muggles: A Long-Standing Debate
    (pp. 1-15)

    The publication ofHarry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stonein 1997 quickly made Britain’s J.K. Rowling a world-famous author. This children’s novel (retitledHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stonein its U.S. release) was followed by four best-selling books and two successful movies. In the process, the story of Harry Potter’s rise, from being a despised orphan living underneath the stairwell at his reluctant adoptive parents’ house to a successful student of magic at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, became common knowledge among both young readers and their parents throughout the English-speaking world. In the process, the novel...

  5. Chapter Two What Were Witches Really Like?
    (pp. 16-45)

    This question is problematic for most readers who have grown up on popular culture images of evil witches who dress in black, ride broomsticks with black cats (their familiar spirits), and brew poisonous potions in order to prey on little children. Witches have been domesticated as Halloween decorations, alongside similar stereotypical images of vampires, goblins, and werewolves, each deriving from its own tradition of once-lively but now-extinct beliefs. Similarly, the counterculture image of the witch as priestess of a persecuted nature religion, as promoted by the Neo-Pagan movement, likewise derives from a twentieth-century stereotype imposed on the complex mixture of...

  6. Chapter Three Black Books and Chain Letters
    (pp. 46-68)

    A particularly robust motif in the lore of witchcraft is the importance of thegrimoire,or magic book, an essential tool for occultists to cast spells. Evidence presented in witchcraft trials regularly mentioned two such volumes: One was a “large black book” owned by the devil or by the head of the witches’ coven, in which the names of witches were signed, often in blood. Another was a “Black Bible” or “Devil’s Missal,” from which the devil or his servants read during their rituals. Some seventeenth-century accounts describe this as a version of the orthodox Missal, with blasphemous changes (such...

  7. Chapter Four Satanic Bibles
    (pp. 69-90)

    Amulets andHimmelsbriefdocuments were not the only items that were fabricated and circulated to gain good fortune. Entire documents existed that claimed to contain magical charms and the instructions for carrying them out. To an extent, these items resembled the list of required textbooks taken by a puzzled Harry Potter to Diagon Alley at the start of his apprenticeship:

    The Standard Book of Spells (Grade 1)by Miranda GoshawkMagical Drafts and Potionsby Arsenius Jigger

    The Dark Forces: A Guide to Self-Protectionby Quentin Trimble (Rowling 1998: 66–67)

    Even though these books did not actually exist (though...

  8. Chapter Five Why Is a Lucky Rabbit’s Foot Lucky?
    (pp. 91-111)

    Harry Potter begins his practical career as a wizard by visiting a shop labeled “Ollivanders: Makers of Fine Wands since 382 B.C.” There the proprietor offers him a series of wands, until he finds one that is exactly right. “Every Ollivander wand has a core of a powerful magical substance,” he explains to the young wizard. “We use unicorn hairs, phoenix tail feathers, and the heartstrings of dragons. No two Ollivander wands are the same, just as no two unicorns, dragons, or phoenixes are quite the same” (1998: 83–84). Mr. Ollivander is emphasizing a fact central to many fetish...

  9. Chapter Six Visits to Forbidden Graveyards
    (pp. 112-141)

    “First years should note that the forest on the grounds is forbidden to all pupils,” Professor Dumbledore tells the incoming class at Hogwarts, adding, “And a few of our older students would do well to remember that as well.” “The forest’s full of dangerous beasts, everyone knows that,” Percy, the prefect of Gryffindor, explains to Harry Potter (1998: 127). Naturally, as the books progress, we find that this rule is observed rather flexibly, with Harry and his friends repeatedly entering the forest on one mission or another. True, the woods are dangerous, but they are also a place where those...

  10. Chapter Seven Table-Setting and Mirror-Gazing
    (pp. 142-173)

    The folk practices underlying authentic records of folk magic and witchcraft were often feared and denounced by religious and secular leaders, even at times when they were tolerated. Nevertheless, the decision to practice folk magic was more often tolerated if the person was mature, and most often when the practitioner was male as well. Indeed, the common stereotype portrays witches and wizards alike as senior citizens, with wrinkled and wizened faces like those of Richard Harris and Dame Maggie Smith (Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall in the movies). Even when cunning-folk and wise women were tolerated, though, such practices were not...

  11. Chapter Eight The @#$%&! Ouija Board
    (pp. 174-196)

    “Last night... we were talking to Satan on the Ouija board,” a college student in Hazleton began, while chatting with one of my folklore students. The personal experience story that followed was typical of many circulated by American adolescents: it described a conversation with no less than the devil himself. The story, like most, was capped by a mysterious event—in this case, the phone rang but no one was on the line. “Why did you do that?” the student asked the board, “and he goes, ‘Because you asked me for a sign and that was my sign’” (PSUHFA, Clinton...

  12. Chapter Nine The Welsh Revival: Evangelical Christianity Meets the Occult
    (pp. 197-222)

    We have demonstrated that witchcraft, magical ritual, and contact with the supernatural constitute stable and generally functional folk traditions in cultures in both Europe and North America, up to the present day. Such traditions have often been at odds with social norms, allowing young people an opportunity for deviant play and providing a matrix for alternative religions such as the Neo-Pagan movement and satanic organizations. Elements drawn from folklore have been used by religious and secular institutions to justify claims that witchcraft and magic are promoted by evil, underground organizations and orchestrated by malicious people. In this sense, folk magic...

  13. Chapter Ten Learning from Lucifer
    (pp. 223-230)

    What do we learn from this survey of grassroots occultism?

    First, we see that magical practices are far more common and pervasive than might initially be suspected, and many of them, like the rabbit’s foot practice or chain letters, are in fact so common that even folklorists ignore their roots in conjure or cabalism. Indeed, many of the practices in the antioccult movement are themselves entangled with “Satan’s counterfeit,” the magical and spiritualist practices in which they are historically rooted.

    Second, such practices commonly are vehicles for protest against existing adult or institutional social structures. As such, they are especially...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 231-238)
  15. Sources Cited
    (pp. 239-258)
  16. Index
    (pp. 259-272)